A US brain expert has urged football to develop new laws and guidelines against heading the football from a young age, as well as a stricter concussion protocol.
Dr. Chris Nowinski, formerly a WWE wrestler whose career was cut short by post-concussion syndrome, believes the link between repeated concussion and dementia could not be ignored, and has even called on legislative order protecting footballers.
‘If it takes law to get protection for footballers from concussion, then make it a law’ Dr. Nowinski told the Daily Record.
‘The current standards to assess players in three minutes is inappropriate. It’s not possible to carry out an assessment in that time. In America, it’s accepted that it takes between eight and 10 minutes. I’d like to see the current practice trebled in football’
This comes after the Scottish FA announced a ban on children heading the ball on all seven-a-side and under-11 football in an effort to protect them in future. This move was led by Giffnock Soccer Centre, an academy credited with producing Champions League winner Andy Robertson, and coach Fergus Reid told Voice of London it had been a long time coming.
‘Contention around heading in the Scottish game has been around for a long while. It’s probably worth qualifying that I’m a coach at Giffnock but also a parent of a player – I coach my eight-year-old son, so I had my own reservations about whether [heading the football] had been a safe thing to do.’ said Fergus.
‘The club had been in consultation with the SYFA (Scottish Youth Football Association) to ask for some guidance on it, and they felt the time was right to issue an advisory note on removing heading of the football from training and matches.’
‘We decided that, as one of the biggest clubs in Scotland, it was appropriate to quite quickly follow with our own policy change to remove heading from those age groups.’
A report was recently released by Glasgow University finding that footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from dementia. Although, the Scottish FA states, that there is no ‘definitive link’ between the brain injury and heading, the governing body made the move to ban heading as a ‘precaution’.
This made the Scottish FA one of the first footballing bodies across Europe to issue this advice and one of the first to publicly recognise the potential link between heading the ball and brain injury.
‘’I’m thrilled the Scottish FA is acting. In America we’ve been having this conversation since 2007. There’s been a reluctance in football to do the same.’ Dr. Nowinski explained
‘There’s a lot of money in the game and you also have a global organisation running it that has credibility issues, FIFA. That all contributes to not acting.’
Giffnock, Scotland’s largest academy, has already established itself as a leader in this topic and, despite the vast praise and respect the academy has received from football circles, Fergus feels more can and will be done to protect their young players.
‘It was important that we looked to protect the youngest players first. After seven-a-side it goes into nine-a-side and 11-a-side, which requires referees being involved and effectively a rule change [nationwide] for those older age groups’ said Fergus.
‘What we have kind of decided as a committee is that we will keep a very close eye on what’s happening, with a view to potentially making another move for the older age groups at some point in future.’
‘I think it’s fair to say that the direction of travel for SYFA is looking at a rule change for those older groups.’
By Micah Chudleigh