The 2013 death of Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old high-school rugby player from Ottawa, is sombre testament to the dangers of concussions. This week, the Ontario legislature turned that tragedy into something positive when it passed a groundbreaking law to safeguard the health and heads of other young athletes.
Bill 193, known as Rowan’s Law, requires all amateur sports associations, clubs and school teams to immediately remove from play any athlete suspected of suffering a concussion. They are only allowed to return to play after following a supervised protocol that ensures they have fully recovered.
The measures are intended to forestall “second-impact syndrome,” a condition brought on when a person suffers a new concussion while still recovering from an existing one. It was this syndrome that cost Ms. Stringer her life.
The law also mandates training on concussion management for athletes, coaches and parents, and an annual review to ensure awareness materials are up to date.
Erring on the side of caution with brain injuries – for all athletes, not just children and amateurs – is the only responsible option. It protects athletes from their own competitive instincts, and from those of their coaches.
Medical research shows children are particularly susceptible to repeated concussions, even in sports with minimal physical contact. It’s not strictly a hockey, football or rugby issue – any physical activity can lead to a bad fall that results in a blow to the head.
And concussions in children are a widespread problem. According to federal health statistics, nearly two in three emergency-room visits by Canadians aged 10-18 in 2016 involved either a concussion or a suspected concussion.
As it stands, Canada doesn’t have a unified approach to concussions in amateur and youth sport. Ontario has now provided the basis for one; the other provinces and territories should use it to adopt their own, and quickly.