How does the pink card that will be used in Copa América 2024 work?

This card will not be used by the referees on the field but by the teams to alert the fourth official that they will be substituting a player due to possible head trauma or concussion

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A member of the technical staff holds us a pink card.Mindful Media (Getty Images)
Alonso Martínez

CONMEBOL officially announced the implementation of the pink card for Copa América 2024 as a way to increase player safety. This makes it the first tournament to integrate this new card that will serve to indicate the need to replace a player on the field due to an apparent concussion.

After making its debut at the championship, the pink card protocol will be adopted throughout FIFA beginning July 1, 2024. This is part of the organization’s initiative to address concerns surrounding concussions in the sport. Major leagues around the world have put measures in place to mitigate such injuries. For example, the Premier League allows substitutions for permanent concussions, which prevents any team from losing an advantage due to the change. Similarly, leagues in other sports have implemented similar protocols, such as the NFL in American soccer and the NHL in ice hockey.

The pink card will join the familiar yellow (to caution) and red (to send a player out of the match) cards, however it will not work in the same way. While the red and yellow cards are used by the referees, the pink card will be used by the teams themselves. The card will also be used at the 2026 World Cup in Mexico, the United States and Canada.

What is the pink card and what is it for?

The pink card indicates that there will be a substitution due to a possible concussion. This card is not used by referees on the field but by teams to alert the fourth official that they will be substituting a player due to head trauma or concussion. This allows teams to make a change without affecting their five authorized substitutions per game. The pink card ensures greater safety for players who have suffered head injuries without taking away the teams’ advantage, since when the team whose player suffered the concussion is given an extra substitution, the opposing team is also given another substitution.

How is the pink card used?

When a team suspects that one of its players has a concussion, the team doctor should report it, which will lead to a substitution. While the new player comes in, the other player should immediately go to the team locker room for medical treatment. The doctor responsible for detecting the injury must also submit a signed medical evaluation to the CONMEBOL medical team to confirm the player’s condition and whether he is fit to play. Once a player is substituted with a pink card, he is not allowed to return to the field during the same match.

It is possible that the card will not be used during this championship, but we may see it in a future match organized by FIFA.

What is a concussion?

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, a contusion or concussion is an injury to the brain that results in temporary loss of normal brain function. “Medically,” the organization notes, “it is defined as a clinical syndrome characterized by an immediate and transient alteration in brain function, including an altered mental status or level of consciousness, resulting from trauma or mechanical force.”

Concussions are caused by direct trauma to the head, which can happen when falling, hitting or suffering an accident. In soccer, there is a high risk of head injuries. Although it is believed that concussions cause loss of consciousness, this is not the case, and blood must not be present for it to be considered a concussion.

The pink card should not be confused with the white card, which is one that has been used by the Portuguese soccer federation (FPF) to recognize and reward fair play, i.e., ethically correct conduct by coaches, players, and even medical teams. This card has not yet been included in the laws of the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

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