Australian footballer awarded 'landmark' disability payout

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A former Australian Rules football player has been awarded a A$1.4m (£0.8m; $1m) insurance payout for brain damage suffered from match concussions.

Shaun Smith, who was a prominent player in the 1980s and 1990s, had said he could no longer work and had also developed acute mental health problems.

Advocates have called it a milestone payment in Australian sport.

Insurance firm MLC found the ex-player, 51, had a valid “total and permanent disablement” claim.

“I’m just happy that it’s finally been recognised,” Mr Smith told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday.

He also called on the AFL (Australian Football League) to improve its policies for how players are treated after a concussion – saying time off should be mandatory.

Currently, the AFL tests injured players before clearing their return to play. The body is yet to comment on the payout awarded to Mr Smith.

The long-term impact of concussions in contact sports such as rugby and football has drawn more attention in recent years as ex-athletes have begun speaking out.

An AFL player catches the ball amid a contest with other players

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Mr Smith said it had been a “fluke” that he had taken out a disablement claim in his life insurance policy 25 years ago – which would have not been the case with most of his peers.

He said the insurer’s ruling, by its medical panel, proved the long-term damage of repeated game concussions.

“This just proves that concussion is real, that we are not just making this stuff up. I’m only the tip of the iceberg,” he told the Herald Sun newspaper after the ruling.

In 2018, a study assessing 25 retired National Rugby League (NRL) players in Australia found repeated head injuries suffered during their careers had left them with long-term impairments.

And in 2016, the US National Football League (NFL) paid out a $1bn (£700m) settlement to a group of retired players who had suffered brain damage as a result of concussions.

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