The B.C. government is floating return-to-play legislation that would determine when young athletes can get back in the game after suffering a concussion or other head injury.
Moira Stilwell, a backbench government MLA, introduced a private member's bill Thursday that would ensure youth sport organizations remove kids from competition if they may have sustained a concussion. The proposed law would then prevent the player from returning to competition or practice until they have been checked over by a health professional.
"This bill offers B.C. a chance to be a national leader around return-to-play legislation," Dr. Stilwell told reporters. The province will consult with sports organizations over the next few months, and she hopes to see binding legislation introduced next spring if those organizations don't voluntarily adopt regulations.
"The bill is intentionally vague," she said. "It's really, at the moment, a stake in the ground around education and awareness." She acknowledged the medical science around concussions and sports is not conclusive. "The important thing is to give parents and players and coaches tools that give them confidence that they are making a good decision for the health of the kids."
While Dr. Stilwell was introducing her bill in the House, about 30 young football players were gathering outside on the steps of the legislature for a photo with the Vanier Cup, Canada's university football trophy.
Ten-year-old Zairech Kremler, in his purple Victoria Outlaws football jersey, was one of the players gathered around the coveted cup. He's playing his fifth season. "I kind of like hitting people," he said Thursday with a grin. He says he's cracked his head a few times, but never while playing football.
His mother, Launa Kremler, the team's assistant coach, has three sons playing football and says concussions are just one injury on her list of fears. "As a parent you are always worried about your child's safety. But the contact sport of football, for us as a family, we love it," she said. "Boys are rambunctious but this disciplined them about where contact is supposed to happen.… It doesn't happen without pads and helmets."
Karn Dodd, head coach for the Victoria Renegades youth football team, said the rules proposed by Dr. Stilwell are already part of the routine in his league. "If you get a concussion, small or large, we take the kid out immediately.… They see the doctor right away, and to return to the field they need a doctor's note."
But he said he's pleased to see anything that helps educate parents and coaches about how to respond to concussions. "Football is a tough sport," he said. "But it happens in soccer, hockey – it can happen in golf. The more educated we are, great."
Gesturing at the boys gathered on the steps, he said: "We want to make sure that at eight years old, they don't get something that wrecks their life."