Children in Scotland could soon be banned from heading the ball in football games and training due to fears over the links with dementia.
The Scottish FA wants to lead the way on the issue after a research found former players are more at risk of developing neurological disorders. The United States have put a similar ban in place since 2015 but the SFA would become the first European country to impose such a restriction.
Debate regarding a proposed ban have been ongoing since the release of a study in October which found the first links between former players and degenerative brain disease.
The Scottish FA’s doctor, John MacLean, was part of the team which highlighted that former players are three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia.
There remains no firm evidence linking heading the ball to the disease but Dr MacLean thinks a restriction of head contact is common sense.
He said: “We can’t wait on the evidence one way or the other on heading.
“We need to take some sensible, pragmatic steps at the moment and that’s largely going to be about trying to reduce that overall burden, the overall times that young players head – and heading in training is much more common than in matches.
“The study was never designed to, and couldn’t identify, why. But I think most people would say, pragmatically, that it would be head injury or heading, in whatever combination that would be.”
Chief Admiral Nurse and CEO, Hilda Hayo, says. “There have been concerns for some time about the higher risk of dementia for some occupations and some forms of head injury. Our specialist dementia nurses (Admiral Nurses) have worked with people with dementia who have played football professionally and whose family are concerned about the possible link of dementia from brain trauma due to prolonged heading of the football, especially the old style leather ones.
“Whilst there are a number of risk factors for dementia, this decision from the Scottish FA is important as it shows an increased awareness of the damage that can be caused to the brain from prolonged heading of a football especially in a young child or adult. It is also a prime example of ways to potentially mitigate against increased diagnoses in the future. This has to be balanced however with the positive health benefits of exercise and team activity.”
Former Wales, Arsenal and Celtic striker John Hartson says the Scottish FA should be applauded for leading the way on something that seems obvious.
He said “Heading was a massive part of my game. Managers bought me because I could head the ball.
“There have been some serious situations where players have lost their lives and ex-legends suffering from dementia, so I’m glad the SFA are leading the rest of football and doing something about it.”