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03rd Aug 2021

Brain injury charity question new FA heading guidelines in light of new research

Simon Lloyd

“This has to be just the start of the conversation”

Brain injury charity Headway has warned that newly introduced Football Association guidelines on heading must be “just the start” as football’s authorities learn more about the long-term implications of heading footballs.

The FA confirmed last week that new guidance limiting professional players to 10 “higher force headers” per week in training would be brought in from the start of the 2021/22 season.

Following the announcement, it was revealed that a study by the University of Glasgow had found footballers – particularly defenders – were more likely to develop dementia than those who do not play.

The study was part-funded by the FA and Professional Footballers Association. It was conducted by Professor Willie Stewart, who also published research in 2019 which found that former footballers were approximately three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative brain disease than the rest of the population.

In light of the evidence, Dr. Stewart has again called for the reduction and possible elimination of unnecessary exposure to head impacts within the game. He also questioned the new guidelines, saying they were based on “unscientific guesswork”.

This has been echoed by Headway, who, along with campaigning for football to improve its handling of on-field concussion injuries, have repeatedly asked for additional research to be carried out on the impact of heading footballs.

In response to Dr. Stewart’s latest findings, Peter McCabe, Headway Chief Executive, said: “This study strengthens the growing body of evidence relating to the long-term implications of heading footballs.

“We have known for a long time that repeated blows to the head, such as those suffered by boxers, can make people more susceptible to degenerative neurological conditions such as dementia.

“What we’re now seeing is clear evidence that heading footballs can also significantly increase those risk factors.

“Whilst the new guidelines set out by the FA to reduce the number of times a ‘higher force header’ can be carried out in a week to 10 is a first step in addressing the risks, there remain significant questions about the science upon which the new rules are based or indeed how it will be managed – particularly at grassroots level.

“This has to be just the start of the conversation.”

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