Heading into Dangerous Territory

News at the weekend that former Celtic and Scotland football legend Billy MacNeill is suffering from dementia and no longer able to speak has sparked debate again over the potential dangers of heading a ball.

American football, Boxing and Rugby have been the three sports most to the fore in terms of public concern over brain trauma caused in pursuit of sport but the net appears to be widening in terms of calls for research.

When former England and West Brom footballer Jeff Astle died in 2002 the coroner attributed it to ‘industrial diease’ caused by his heading heavier leather footballs throughout his career.

15 years on and football authorities are still being accused of dragging their heels in terms of drawing up evidence that would prove one way or another if there was cause for concern.
Only last week a study by University College London found evidence of a higher incidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy than would be normal in the general population.

In the US there is a ban on children under the age of 12 from heading the ball.

A former CEO of the Scottish Football Association spoke yesterday of the potential need for players coming into the game to sign disclaimers saying they are aware of the potential dangers of heading the ball as a means of avoiding having to make sweeping changes to the way the sport is played.

Speaking to the BBC Luke Griggs of UK Brain injury charity Headway said that “urgent action needs to be taken now not only to give answers to families of footballers who were playing in the old era of heavy footballs, but also to give reassurance to families of children who are playing today that their kids are safe playing this sport.”

A conference on brain trauma and concussion was held at Trinity College last Friday with contributions from keith Wood who recalled his memory of three concussions he had suffered and likening the effect to somebody having ‘smashed a mirror’.

There was serious medical input from doctors and professors that will give further food for thought not so much for players engaged in sport at the moment but especially for parents wondering about the dangers they may be putting in front of their children.

Sport for Business will devote an upcoming Members’ Round Table discussion to issues around the potential legal pitfalls of brain injury from sport, likely to be of interest to player groups, legal firms and governing bodies.

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