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02nd Aug 2021

Defenders are at increased risk from heading, research finds

Simon Lloyd

I think footballs should be sold with a health warning”

A new study has found that footballers who play as defenders are more likely to develop dementia as they grow older when compared to players in other positions.

It found that defenders were five times more likely to have dementia than those who do not play football. Forwards were found to be three times more likely, while goalkeepers, who rarely have the need to head the ball, faced almost no additional risk.

The research was conducted by Professor Willie Stewart at the University of Glasgow, and was part funded by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association.

The study also found that length of playing career also appeared to be a factor in the likelihood of a player having dementia.

The study comes two years after Dr Stewart published research that found former footballers were approximately three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative brain disease than the rest of the population.

Related links

Viv Anderson explains how football can fight back against the dementia crisis

Wayne Rooney backs calls for investigation into link between heading and dementia

Sporting Memories: The charity where football helps tackle dementia, depression and loneliness

Speaking about his latest work, he called for football’s authorities to do drastically minimise the risks posed by heading:

“I think footballs should be sold with a health warning saying repeated heading in football may lead to increased risks of dementia,” he explained.

“Unlike other dementias and degenerative diseases, where we have no idea what causes them, we know the risk factor and it’s entirely preventable.

“We can stop this now and to do that we have to reduce, if not eliminate, unnecessary head impacts. Is heading absolutely necessary for football to continue? Or to put it another way: is exposure to the risk of dementia necessary for football?

“I’ve yet to see any evidence that heading a ball is good for you. Football is great for you, there is less cancer and cardiovascular problems for players, but there are dreadful levels of dementia and I can’t see the benefit of that.”

The news of the study follows the news that English football has recommended that limits are placed on the number of headers professional and amateur players are allowed during training sessions.