Sophie Conway leaves the field with medical staff during the 2023 NAB AFLW Grand Final. Picture: Dylan Burns, AFL Photos

The AFL today imposed a sanction on the Brisbane Lions Football Club for a breach of the AFLW concussion guidelines in the management of Sophie Conway during the NAB AFLW Grand Final on 3 December 2023.

Brisbane has been sanctioned $20,000, of which $10,000 will be included in the Club’s AFLW Soft Cap. A suspended fine of $10,000 will not be payable unless a similar breach occurs in Brisbane’s AFL or AFLW program in 2024.
Although Conway did not suffer a concussion in the incident, the sanction has been imposed due to a non-deliberate breach of the protocols by Brisbane.
The AFL investigated the incident and found the following:

  • With approximately three minutes to go in the 3rd quarter of the NAB AFLW Grand Final, the AFL Concussion Medical Spotter in the ARC alerted Brisbane to an incident involving Sophie Conway in which a “motor incoordination” (i.e. a stumble) was observed and thus Brisbane was required to immediately remove Conway and subject her to further assessment including a SCAT5;
  • The Brisbane doctor did not see the message from the ARC Concussion spotter and Conway played out the last part of the 3rd quarter;
  • When the Brisbane doctor was alerted to the message from the Spotter at the start of the 3-quarter time break, he undertook some assessment of Conway, with Conway telling the Doctor she lost balance due to physical exhaustion, rather than contact with any player. Whilst the Brisbane doctor was in the process of reviewing video footage of the incident, Conway was allowed to return to the field without a SCAT5 being conducted and played the first few minutes of the 4th quarter;
  • Conway was then removed from the field and subjected to a SCAT5 that did not identify any symptoms, deficits or abnormalities. Conway played out the final minutes of the match (as was the protocol available to Brisbane given the clear result of the SCAT5).

The AFL’s concussion guidelines require strict and consistent adherence to protect the health and safety of players.  Whilst Brisbane’s breach of the concussion guidelines was at the lower end of the scale (noting that Conway played only the last few minutes of the 3rd quarter and the first few minutes of the 4th quarter in breach of the guidelines and that she was ultimately cleared of any deficits or abnormalities by the SCAT5), it is important that Clubs have processes in place to avoid a breach as occurred here.
“The AFL is committed to protecting the health and safety of all players and requires strict compliance with concussion guidelines from our Clubs.  Whilst we acknowledge that Brisbane’s breach was not deliberate, and Conway did not in fact suffer a concussion, we set high standards that must be met in the assessment of head trauma to avoid the risk of further injury.” AFL General Counsel Stephen Meade said.