PFA hits back at criticism over their approach to dementia in football

Bullish PFA boss Gordon Taylor hits back at criticism over approach to dementia in football as he claims they have pushed for more research from the FA on heading and concussion

  • PFA supremo Gordon Taylor has hit back at critics over dementia and football 
  • Taylor questioned why it is seen as the PFA’s sole role to deal with dementia 
  • Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton was diagnosed with dementia 
  • Five of the England team from the World Cup final in 1966 have suffered from it

PFA supremo Gordon Taylor has hit back at critics of his union’s approach to the issue of dementia in football.

Speaking exclusively to Sportsmail, Taylor questioned why it is seen as the PFA’s sole role to deal with the issue of brain disease in former players, said that he is committed to more research and has lobbied for its recognition as an industrial injury.

‘People say, ‘why aren’t the PFA sorting it out?’, Taylor said, ‘and you think hang on, this is a world-wide issue that Governments can’t get to grips with. We’re not medical people. We’ll do whatever we can but the best neurologists in the world still can’t deal with exactly what causes it.

PFA supremo Gordon Taylor has hit back at critics over the issue of dementia in football

Four members of the 1966 team, Stiles (second from top left), Martin Peters (bottom row far left), Jack Charlton (top row middle) and Ray Wilson (top row second from right), who experienced World Cup glory have died since 2018 after living with dementia

‘We’ve said research is needed into heading the ball, repetitive heading and concussion. We’ve tried to lobby the FA on that. We’re working with about three projects now where we’re trying to get former players to volunteer for testing, to get as much data as we can.

‘It’s important we keep researching and analysing and then if necessary you’ve got to look to change the rules and be careful about repetitive heading.’

The PFA have come in for fresh criticism since Friday’s death of Nobby Stiles — who lived for years with Alzheimer’s — was followed by confirmation on Sunday that Sir Bobby Charlton, his Manchester United and England teammate, has been diagnosed with dementia.

Five of the England team from the World Cup final in 1966 have suffered from the disease since retirement, as have many other former footballers.

Research has supported theories about a link between heading the ball and the early onset of dementia.

Campaigners such as Dawn Astle, daughter of former West Brom and England centre-forward Jeff Astle, and Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton, whose father Mike is an ex-footballer with dementia, have urged the PFA to do more.

Taylor says his union has lobbied for action and supported and part-fund the research led by Willie Stewart at the University of Glasgow.

He also defended the PFA’s work caring for former professionals after pledging £500,000 for the Reposm Sporting Housing Trust. The charity provides affordable sheltered accommodation for former sportspeople and is essential as there is evidence based research which links homelessness and loneliness to dementia.

THE RISKS OF HEADING A BALL 

For decades, experts believed dementia was a matter of fate – a cruel quirk of genetics and ageing.

But scientists have become increasingly aware that lifestyle factors play a significant part in a person’s chances of developing the condition in old age.

Among these is head injury of any severity, including that caused by repeatedly heading a football. A major study last year showed professional players were at significantly increased dementia risk.

Footballers who head the ball during training are up to 80 per cent more likely to get the disease – which is why younger children are now banned from doing so.

Earlier this year, the Football Association issued guidelines saying there should be no heading during training sessions for under-11s. It also recommended that heading drills for under-18s should be reduced.

Children are still allowed to head balls in competitive games, but officials say younger players rarely do so in matches.

The study, which was funded by the FA, looked at 7,680 Scottish footballers born between 1900 and 1976 and found they were also four times more likely to die of motor neurone disease and twice as likely from Parkinson’s.

Goalkeepers, who rarely if ever head the ball, were found to be half as likely to receive medication for dementia as players in other positions.




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