Safety in the football codes: a historical review of fatalities in Australian print media

Jacob L Jewson, Peter Brukner, Thomas J Gara and Lauren V Fortington
Med J Aust 2020; 213 (11): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50856
Published online: 14 December 2020

The dangers of modern football are often scrutinised, but has safety actually evolved over time?

In Australia, four major football codes (focusing on soccer, rugby union, rugby league and Australian football) are generally considered to be high risk sports. On rare occasions, serious injury and death can occur.1,2 The popularity of these sports for spectators and participants tends to result in a bias on the reporting and awareness of any serious events that happen. This has been further heightened by the emphasis on head trauma and concussion in recent years. At the same time, the peak bodies of the football codes in Australia, including the Football Federation Australia, Rugby Australia, the National Rugby League and the Australian Football League, have been proactive in addressing safety concerns. This includes rule changes,3 return to play protocols,4 and direct funding of research.5 Perhaps counterintuitively, positive safety management can result in the public image being presented with an unfair focus on the risks of participation.

  • 1 Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 LASEM Research Centre, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC
  • 3 South Australian Museum, Adelaide, SA
  • 4 Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA



Lauren Fortington is part of the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP) at Edith Cowan University. ACRISP is one of the International Research Centres for the Prevention of Injury and Protection of Athlete Health supported by the International Olympic Committee. None of these organisations had any role in the study design, data collection, analysis or interpretation, reporting or publication.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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