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The FA set to ban heading in children’s football due to link to brain injury and dementia in later life


09 February 2020

Following a 22-month study by the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group into the incidence of dementia in former footballers, the FA is set to ban heading in children’s football in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not, as yet, in Wales.

Though still to release final guidelines, it is thought that coaches will be instructed to stop Under-12s from heading during training, with a phased introduction during matches up to the age of 18.

The research showed that former professional players are 3.5 times more likely to die of brain disease - five times more likely to die of Alzheimer’s, four times more likely to die of motor neurone disease and twice as likely to die of Parkinson’s. The research also showed a link with chronic cerebrovascular disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Families have suspected the link between repetitive heading or collisions and brain injury for many years, and this research confirms their fears. Back in 2016, the University of Stirling found just 20 headers lead to a temporary reduction in the cognitive function of footballers.

In the US, Dr Bennet Omalu discovered the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the type of dementia that is most commonly linked to head trauma and highlighted in the 2015 film Concussion. CTE was found in 11 of the former footballers and rugby players studied in this research.

Dr Omalu said, "No child under the age of 18 should be heading the ball in soccer. Kids under the age of 12 to 14 should play a less contact form of soccer which we should develop for them. Kids between 12 and 18 can play but should not head the ball. I know this is difficult for many people but science evolves. We change with time. Society changes. It is time for us to change some of our ways."

Children aged 10 and under are already banned from heading in the United States both in training and matches, and there is also a restriction on heading for those aged between 11 and 13.

In the UK, The Jeff Astle Foundation have asked Industrial Injuries Advisory Council for neurodegenerative disease in footballers to be recognised as an industrial illness. In 2002, an inquest ruled the former England footballer died from brain trauma caused by heading in the sport.

Peter McCabe, of brain injury charity Headway, said “We are encouraged to hear the Football Association is set to restrict the amount of heading allowed by young players. In light of the recent study undertaken by the University of Glasgow, this is a positive, common-sense approach to take.

After all, it will not prohibit young people participating in the game or impact their enjoyment. We cannot afford to wait for further evidence to be published before taking action on this.”

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