Court Case Seeks To Press For Football Header Restrictions

FIFA Accused Of Complacency Over Concussion In Youth Football

29.08.2014

Football's world governing body FIFA is being urged to act over the apparent dangers of children heading footballs frequently, with aerial challenges being claimed as a frequent source of concussion incidents.

A lawsuit lodged in a California court has proposed a restriction on heading the ball by youngsters, arguing that an "epidemic of concussive injuries" has been witnessed in the sport. It claims 30 per cent of these are the result of aerial challenges.

The suit, brought by five 'soccer moms' is not seeking any monetary damages, but it is calling for FIFA to impose global restrictions that either ban players heading the ball in training or face a weekly limit on the number of headers, while under-14s should be either not allowed to head the ball or limited in their quota of permitted headers.

FIFA has been named as a defendant alongside the United States Soccer Federation, US Youth Soccer Association, American Youth Soccer Organisation, National Association of Competitive Soccer Clubs and the California Youth Soccer Association.

They face a demand for the implementation of amendments to the laws of the game that "provide proper concussion management" and accuse the authorities of having "failed to protect players by their failure to enact and enforce best practices".

The case makes reference to incidents like that of German player Christoph Kramer, who was allowed to play on in the World Cup Final despite suffering a blow to the head. He was subsequently substituted and admitted he could barely remember any part of his contribution to the match.

Attempts to restrict headers in training may prove problematic, as that is when routines such as set pieces are practised - with these usually involving important aerial challenges that may score or prevent a goal. In addition, some of the more serious concussion cases have not involved attempts to head the ball.

One high-profile case was that of Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who was allowed to play on in a match against Everton after being struck in the head by an opponent's knee as he dived to gather a ball rolling along the ground.

This season, the Premier League has said any concussed player must leave the field of play.

Expert Opinion
This year we have seen concussion in sport come into the spotlight like never before and any discussion or debate around the issue has to be welcomed. Regardless of the sport involved, it is clear that concussion and any kind of head injury is a major concern which needs to be treated carefully. Indeed it has been heartening to see that the authorities in football and rugby union have committed to further research into this area and that they are taking player welfare seriously.

“Incidents such as those involving Christoph Kramer simply should not happen, but in a sense that type of incident should be easier to manage, as the occurrence of the head injury is immediately apparent. The position is less clear in respect of issues such as the repeated heading of a ball. It is right and proper that concerns are aired, but a balance must be achieved to ensure that we can all continue to benefit from participation in sports at all levels.

"Our work on behalf of victims of serious head injuries means we see the consequences that such incidents can have both in the short term but more importantly the longer term, so we understand the problem. Whilst it is difficult to say whether the proposals being sought by the “soccer moms” are what is really needed, the proceedings they have brought will at least add to the debate about what the best approach should be. It must also be recognised that each sport has its own particular challenges, heading the ball being unique to football.

“Brain injuries can be life-changing and we urge those involved in the governing of contact sports to ensure those who suffer head injuries are given the appropriate level of care and their wellbeing is the top priority for anyone treating them.”
Stephen Nye, Partner