Professional footballers in Scotland will be banned from heading the ball the day before and the day after matches after studies showing how it can affect the brain.
Clubs are also being advised to limit heading balls in training to one session a week because of the links between repetitive heading of a football and brain damage, reports the BBC.
The guidance by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) comes after a landmark study revealed former professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to suffer from dementia and other serious neurological diseases.
In 2020, the SFA led the way in banning children under the age of 12 from heading balls in training amid similar brain damage concerns, making Scotland the first European country to do so. Last year, clubs in English football restricted footballers to 10 “higher-force” headers a week in training.
“What we already know about heading and its effects on the brain suggests that there is measurable memory impairment lasting 24 to 48 hours following a series of headers and that brain-related proteins can be detected in blood samples for a short time after heading,” the SFA doctor John MacLean told the BBC.
“The goal is to reduce any potential cumulative effect of heading by reducing the overall exposure to heading in training,” he said.
Both men’s and women’s professional teams across Scotland were consulted before the release of the guidelines. To reduce the damage from heading impact, clubs are also being told to monitor activity in training.
A report, co-funded by the FA and the Professional Footballers’ Association and conducted by the University of Glasgow in 2019, found that former professionals were three and a half times as likely as a member of the public to die from brain disease, five times more likely to die of Alzheimer’s and four times more likely to die of motor neuron disease.
“Our data show that mortality from neurodegenerative disease was higher and prescriptions of dementia-related medications were more common among former professional soccer players than among controls from the Scottish population,” the study concluded, after comparing the causes of death of 7,676 former male professional players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 people from the general population.
However, it was unable to establish whether the cause of the higher levels of brain disease was due to repeated concussions, or some other factor.
In a groundbreaking ruling in 2002, a coroner found that the West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle died in January that year from an “industrial disease”, caused by heading heavy leather footballs leading to his death at the age of 59.
His daughter Dawn Astle, who has long campaigned on the issue, called the SFA’s guidelines “another landmark ruling for the dementia in football campaign”. – Guardian