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David Mackay’s unpunished 'bump': why Australian sports must do more to tackle head and facial injuries

Rugby Scrum
Monday, 18 October 2021 By Alexandria Anthony, Alexandra Veuthey

Professional team sports in Australia are dominated by two major codes: Australian Rules football and rugby league. These codes are governed by the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL), both having the power to make their own rules.

Australian Rules football is considered to derive from rugby or Gaelic football, but also, due to the importance of its foot play, from football or even Aboriginal jousts. Rugby league is close to rugby union, but emerged as an independent sport following a schism in the late nineteenth century that saw it develop its own technical specifics and become a professional sport.

While incidents and collisions are very common in these sports, a particular case has recently focused the attention of sports commentators and experts in Australian Rules football: Adelaide midfielder David Mackay’s unpunished “bump” (tackle), which left his opponent knocked out with a broken jaw. The reason this incident attracted so much attention is because it was viewed as a test case in the AFL’s bid to protect players’ heads amid increasing concern about concussion and long-term health and financial implications. It also highlights an issue that is common to all sports: the tension between the need to protect player welfare and to maintain the physicality and attractiveness of competitions.

This article is split into two parts. The first part summarises the general state of the situation regarding concussion in Australia and overseas. It argues that Australian leagues have a legal and moral duty, as well as a financial interest to protect athletes through appropriate rules of play and sanctions. The second part then provides an in-depth analysis of the Mackay case, illustrating the room for improvement that still remains in the AFL’s approach to preventing concussion. It concludes with a summary of the main findings and proposals.  The sections can be accessed here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Alexandria Anthony

Alexandria Anthony

Alex was admitted as a lawyer in Victoria in November 2018. She moved to SportsLawyer to follow her passion for sports and employment law after 3.5 years working at a top-tier law firm in Australia. She holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Melbourne and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) majoring in Philosophy and Human Rights Theory from Monash University.

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Alexandra Vuethey

Alexandra Veuthey

Alexandra Veuthey is a Swiss attorney, with postgraduate qualifications in common law. She has several years of experience in law firms and research institutes, specialising in sports law. 

As an attorney, she has provided legal advice to various international sports federations and athletes based in Switzerland and abroad. 

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