In our 300th edition of BC Disease News (here), we revealed that the Jeff Astle Foundation, led by descendants of the first ex-professional footballer to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) post-mortem, was lobbying the Government to have dementia (and other neurodegenerative diseases) in footballers recognised as an ‘industrial disease’, under the industrial injuries disablement benefit (IIDB) scheme.
In a more recent development, on 5 February, founding members of the Foundation met up with Football Association (FA) Chairman, Greg Clarke, and were informed that later this month, new guidelines will be introduced to bring about a football heading ban in youth football, in England and Scotland.[i]
This will make the UK the first European nation to proactively adopt restrictive measures that loosely mirror rules already established in US youth soccer.
Although precautions are now being taken to ‘decrease overall exposure to headers’, it should be reiterated that there is still no definitive proof that the repeated sub-concussive trauma of heading a football is (even in part) responsible for the increased occupational health risks discerned in the University of Glasgow’s ‘landmark’ Football's InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD) study, chiefly:
- A 5-fold increase in risk of Alzheimer’s disease;
- A 4-fold increase in risk of motor neurone disease;
- A 3.5-fold increase in risk of dementia; and
- A 2-fold increase in risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Heading limits have been prescribed by the FA’s Research Taskforce and are an evolution of pre-existing ‘age appropriate guidance’, but official approval is still pending.
Match-play will be exempt from these limits, meaning that the ban will only apply to training.
Coaches and teachers will be instructed to implement a blanket ban on heading in the under-7s until under-12s game. At secondary school ages, heading will be introduced, but with restrictions on frequency and the weight of footballs used. These measures will continue to operate in phases up to the age of 18.
Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of brain injury charity, Headway, considers the FA’s plan of action to be a ‘positive, common sense approach’.
Once detailed proposals have been confirmed, we will provide further analysis.
[i] Martyn Ziegler, ‘Young footballers face limits on heading on heading over dementia fears’ (6 February 2020 The Times) <https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/young-footballers-face-limits-on-heading-over-dementia-fears-qx76q7xrf> accessed 10 February 2020.
Jeremy Wilson, ‘Exclusive: FA moves to end heading by children’ (6 February 2020 The Telegraph) <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2020/02/06/fa-introduce-new-restrictions-childrens-heading/> accessed 10 February 2020.