FA Agrees To Head Injury Study

FA Finally Agrees To Study Injuries To Former Players


The Football Association (FA) has agreed to carry out a study into head injuries suffered by former players, which may have led to many developing brain problems in later life.

It is to act after campaigning work by the family of former England forward Jeff Astle, who died in 2002 at the age of 59 with a brain condition normally found in boxers, the BBC reports.

Astle, who was famous for his many headed goals, was ruled by a coroner after his death to have sustained the damage by heading heavy leather balls in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Justice For Jeff group has been campaigning for research ever since, although much of this will be concerned with the impact of heavy balls in the past - which would become even more bulky when conditions were wet and they soaked up water - rather than the lighter balls of today.

Daughter of the former player Dawn Astle met with FA chairman Greg Dyke, as did Dr Willie Stewart, the neurosurgeon who examined the West Bromwich Albion stalwart's brain after his death.

Commenting on the upcoming study, Mr Dyke said: "We will keep in touch with family and have outlined our plans to look at what research is needed next and take the subject forward on a global level because, as we have seen in the recent World Cup, head injuries are not just prevalent in English football."

The issue of head injuries arose three times in the World Cup when players were not substituted despite being concussed. One case - where Uruguayan Alvaro Pereira remained on the pitch against England despite a blow to the head - led to calls from world players' union Fifpro for independent medical assessments to be used to determine if players are safe to stay on the field of play.

Last week, the FA introduced new guidelines for the Premier League season - which starts next Saturday (August 16th) - that stipulate any player knocked unconscious during a game should not be allowed to return to the pitch.

Expert Opinion
There is a growing body of research which suggests that repeated blows to the head in the course of playing sports may cause degenerative brain disorders in later life. Whilst the types of footballs used now are far lighter than they used to be, it is encouraging to hear that the FA are taking the matter so seriously, both in terms of looking at the possible effects on former players and the management of any risks for current and future players.

“We also welcome the recent changes to the Premier League rules that will alter the way head injuries are dealt with on the pitch. Other sports, notably American Football and rugby, are also considering the issue of head injuries in sport and now that there is more open and honest debate, the more likely an appropriate policy will be introduced to ensure player welfare in all higher risk sports.

“It is vital governing bodies investigate the damage head injuries have on players. It is clear that ‘battling on for the team’ is a very dangerous approach towards head injuries in sport, which could lead to life-changing consequences. What may seem like a minor, concussive head injury can in fact be very serious. A number of young people look up to Premier League football players as role-models and it is important they, along with the FA, send out the right message in terms of the management of head injuries.”
Stephen Nye, Partner