TORONTO -- A new study suggests the world’s top female soccer players are more likely to receive on-field assessments for head injuries compared to their male counterparts, but both sides have some work to do when it comes to concussion prevention in the sport.

The research led by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto examined head collisions among players at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and compared the results to similar incidents at the 2014 and 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup, as well as the 2016 UEFA Euro Cup.

The researchers found these collisions occur at a similar frequency in the men’s and women’s tournaments, but half of the women received in-game medical assessments, compared to just a third of men. 

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, also indicates the play was stopped for an average of just 70 seconds for the women, compared to 50 seconds for men, a fraction of the 10 minutes concussion research suggests it could take to detect a head injury.

“There is international consensus that athletes who sustain a potentially concussive head collision should be given a proper medical assessment and be removed from play until a qualified professional can determine that it is safe for them to return to play,” Dr. Michael Cusimano, lead researcher and a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital, said in a news release.

“It is clear that this is not happening in elite women’s or men’s play at this time.”

Cusimano’s research team also found that 84 per cent of female athletes and 88 per cent of male athletes showed more than one visible sign of a concussion after a head collision on the pitch, despite less than half of the players receiving an assessment. 

Cusimano believes that, given the popularity of the sport globally, there is an urgent need to address concussions in soccer.

Tournaments like the FIFA World Cup attract millions of viewers, and the examples set by elite athletes and officials affect how players and officials globally, at any level, deal with concussions,” he said. 

Cusimano suggests FIFA should implement policies similar to football and hockey as a way to help their players, including bringing in video referees, independent medical professionals to assess the athletes and allowing for temporary substitutions of players.