Plea after fatal on-field collision

Antonia Loiacono
Antonio Loiacono’s death has intensified the spotlight on concussion in sport.

Sport health bodies say more needs to be done to help support the prevention and recovery of concussion-based injuries in community sport following the death of a 20-year-old footballer who died after an on-field collision.

Adelaide tradie Antonio Loiacono was knocked unconscious in a tackle during the final quarter in an Australian rules match last Saturday.

He was flown to the Royal Adelaide Hospital from Gumeracha Oval in the Adelaide Hills, but less than 24 hours later he was declared brain dead.

A joint statement between the SANFL and the Hills Football League confirmed the “contact was deemed accidental and not a reportable incident”.

Antonio Loiacono died after an on-field collision. Picture: Supplied
Antonio Loiacono died after an on-field collision. Picture: Supplied
He played for the Birdwood Football Club. Picture: Supplied
He played for the Birdwood Football Club. Picture: Supplied

The specific details surrounding Mr Loiacono’s death will be determined by South Australia’s coroner.

But his brother Jack is concerned there could have been an underlying issues, as the utility had suffered multiple concussions as a teenager.

The string of head injuries meant he had to take a break from the sport at age 15.

“His last one which happened a few years ago was pretty bad. For a day or two, he had vomiting and memory loss, but nothing as bad as this,” Jack said.

SA Sports Medicine Association chief executive Danielle Grant-Cross stressed the importance of concussion awareness in community sports that lack the resources and dedicated medical resources of professional and elite teams.

“We’re trying to ensure concussion, and all other injury management, becomes part of everyone’s normal business (regardless of the level people are playing at),” she said.

In terms of priorities, Ms Grant-Cross believes there needs to be more consistent messaging, accredited staff in the event of an incident, and a focus on clubs to maintain up-to-date policies for players who may be more at risk of injury or who are concussed during a game or in training.

“That gives people the best chance should something occur,” she says.

“If you are injured, you are injured, but you know there will always be another week to play if you look after yourself.

“We need a whole-of-community approach to this. It can be dire as we’ve unfortunately seen, so it’s very, very crucial that everyone supports each other and that we try and improve where we can.”

Tributes to Antonio Loiacono
Flowers and crosses have been placed on Adelaide’s Gumeracha Oval, where Mr Loiacono was involved in an on-field collision. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Naomi Jellicoe

Concussion passport ‘great in theory’

Although Mr Lociacono’s death has sparked calls for the implementation of a “concussion register or concussion passport” for players – which would be reviewed when someone joins a team to assess their risk of injury – Ms Grant-Cross said this would be difficult to implement.

While “great in theory”, she noted there were privacy and logistical issues.

“There are lots of potential considerations that need to be thought through around Freedom of Information, insurance and liability,” she said.

“People might be asked to talk about whether there are any mental health concerns or if there’s drug and alcohol use. There are lots of things to consider.”

However, a growing body of research indicates repeated trauma can increase the severity of future injuries.

High-profile compensation claims launched by former professional AFL players, including Geelong’s Max Rooke and Western Bulldogs star Liam Picken who have suffered long-term injuries due to concussion, have also increased public awareness of the implications of multiple concussions.

He had suffered multiple concussions in his teens. Picture: Supplied
He had suffered multiple concussions in his teens. Picture: Supplied

A spokeswoman for Connectivity Traumatic Brain Injury Australia – a not-for-profit that works to educate and raise awareness of concussion and traumatic brain injury – said “recovery can be longer following subsequent concussion and symptoms can be more severe”.

“Some individuals continue to experience symptoms beyond the recovery time frame,” she said.

“They are experiencing persistent post-concussion symptoms. At this point in time, we do not know why some people develop persistent post-concussion symptoms and others do not.”

Connectivity said close to 20 per cent of concussions were sport-related and agreed that there was a need for more concussion education to help sporting communities “recognise, understand and manage concussion and its different paths to recovery”.

‘He lived and breathed it’

Jack said it was “humbling” to learn his brother had died doing something he undeniably loved.

“He lived and breathed it,” Jack said of his brother’s love of football.

A family statement shared on Thursday also spoke about Mr Loiacono’s love of AFL.

“Antonio loved football – the camaraderie of the players, their families, and the local country teams,” they wrote.

“Antonio started playing Auskick when he was just four years old, and we are so thankful for the love and support we’ve received from the football community over the past few days.”

Antonio with brother Jack. Picture: Supplied
Antonio with brother Jack. Picture: Supplied

They also remembered Antonio as a loveable “larrikin” with an infectious energy.

“Antonio was a larrikin who had a gift for bringing people together, young and old, and brought light and life into every room,” they said.

“We feel so blessed that his spirit continues to unite the community, as he always did in life.”

Since Antonio’s death, a GoFundMe has been started on behalf of the family. Created on Tuesday, the campaign has raised more than $22,500.