Dementia in football: Two thirds of amateur footballers fear that heading may impact their health

Two thirds of amateur footballers fear that heading the ball may be having a detrimental impact on their health, according to a new study.

The results come from a survey of 2,000 people that was conducted on behalf of The Drake Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, which has funded more than £2m of scientific research into the health and welfare of sports players.

Two thirds of amateur footballers – 66 per cent – fear that heading the ball may be having a detrimental impact on their health, mirroring concerns raised in the professional game, and 70 per cent want guidelines to restrict it in training. Forty-eight per cent want less heading in matches.

The majority of parents – 56 per cent – want heading in training to be restricted for children aged 14-18, in line with restrictions already introduced for younger players, and 32 per cent want it banned completely.

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The survey findings come as a joint committee, led by the Premier League and the Football Association, is working towards protocols that would make England the first country to limit heading in professional training. A study published in October 2019 found that former professional footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population.

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In rugby union, governing authorities are facing lawsuits from former players over head injuries sustained during their careers, including World Cup winner Steve Thompson. And a group of doctors recently wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden calling for tackling to be banned in schools to protect them from head injuries.

The Drake Foundation survey shows these concerns are shared by amateur rugby players and parents alike, as 63 per cent of amateur players have decided to limit the amount they play, or to give up playing completely, in the light of reports that former professionals believe rugby is to blame for permanent brain injuries.

Seventy-seven per cent want tackling above the waist to be banned, while 64 per cent fear that rugby could have a long-term impact on their health.

Meanwhile, 66 per cent of parents want scrums to be banned from youth rugby and 65 per cent want tackling to be banned from Under-14 rugby, with 58 per cent also supporting a ban for Under-16s and 55 per cent for Under-18s. The majority of parents – 58 per cent – fear rugby could have a detrimental long-term impact on their child’s health.

Study involving Gareth Southgate needs 100 more ex-players

A dementia study involving Gareth Southgate requires 100 more former professional footballers to come forward, one of its leaders has said.

Southgate is taking part in the study, currently short of its ideal target, with participants asked to perform a number of tests of cognitive function – including recalling elements from a short story – and matching faces to names and jobs.

They will also be asked to report on any incidents of concussion during their careers and provide information which will help researchers gauge how frequently they headed the ball in matches and training.

Any member of the Professional Footballers’ Association aged 50 or over is eligible to take part, with all the assessments conducted via the telephone or online, but so far the study leaders have only got around 200 of the 300 participants they would ideally like.

“It’s going OK, but maybe not as fast as we’d hoped, so it was good to have support from Gareth Southgate,” Professor Neil Pearce, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said.

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