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FA confirms start date for study into football related brain damage

24 November 2017

Following mounting pressure, the Football Association has confirmed a study into suspected links between heading a football and brain damage will begin in January. Such links have long been suspected and many suggest this research is overdue. In 2002, the footballer Jeff Astle died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease more commonly found in boxers. The inquest into his death concluded he had died as a result of industrial disease and that repeatedly heading footballs had contributed to trauma on his brain. Recent media spotlight on the subject, including Alan Shearer’s BBC documentary 'Dementia, Football and Me' which featured the Astle family has no doubt added to the pressure, with the announcement of the study start date coming shortly after the documentary was broadcast.

The suspected risk of brain damage sustained while playing sport is not new. Research carried out by University College London and Britain’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, looking at a small sample of 14 footballers over a period of 40 years found 6 had signs of Alzheimer’s disease and four had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a possible consequence of repeated impacts to the brain. In America, the NFL has settled a class action brought by NFL retirees agreeing payments of up to $1 billion in total for those diagnosed with certain types of neurological damage. However this does not include cases of CTE.

While the outcome of the study is unlikely to be made available for some significant time, those with an involvement in football, particularly at a junior level, should ensure they review their training and policies regarding concussive injuries and adhere to the FA Concussion Guidance. The PFA are so concerned they are suggesting children under the age of 11 should be banned from heading footballs until the long-term health risks are better understood. A failure to treat this issue with the gravity it deserves could result in negligence claims at a later date.

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