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As Scottish football bans heading in training World Cup injuries show more needs to be done to protect players and stop brain health complacency

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) has announced that professional footballers in Scotland will be banned from heading the ball the day before and the day after matches after studies showing how it can affect the brain. 

Clubs are also requested to reduce heading balls in training to one session a week because of links between repetitive heading of a football and brain damage.

The guidance which was introduced with immediate effect followed a landmark study which revealed professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from dementia and other serious neurological diseases. The SFA has advised that more than 70% of clubs surveyed in the Scottish Professional Football League and Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup supported the guidelines being introduced.

World Cup highlights issues around head injuries

As a trustee of my local Headway Group, Headway East London, and as a specialist brain injury solicitor I'm left wondering why brain health is not being prioritised in this World Cup? 

The brain injury charity Headway has said the decision to allow Iran’s goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand to continue playing after the clash of heads with a teammate in their match against England was an "utter disgrace".

I had 15 minutes to spare before a virtual meeting with the therapy team for a brain injured client so decided to tune in to watch the start of the game. What I saw, left me in utter shock. Beiranvand collided with a team mate which led to the goalkeeper needing treatment from the medical team for several minutes on the pitch. He was visibly disorientated but allowed to keep on playing for several more minutes after signalling to the bench that he needed to come off.

Fast forward eight days later to the England and Wales Game on Tuesday which I was watching with my sons who are huge football fans and both play for their school teams. What we saw left them both in shock as Neco Williams fell to the pitch after blocking Marcus Rashford’s 24th minute shot with the top of his head. He was allowed to carry on playing for 12 minutes before being replaced. The Fifa concussion test was followed but again Headway has raised concerns into player health saying “Fifa and Ifab’s refusal to introduce a temporary concussion substitute rule is causing undue risk to players. The rule is supposed to be ‘if in doubt, sit it out’ not ‘play on and see how it goes’.”

Former England Captain Alan Shearer called for the introduction of temporary concussion substitutes after the head injury suffered by Beiranvand and it’s really concerning that a similar incident happened so closely concerning a player’s brain health.

The lasting impact of brain injury

I see many clients with brain injuries who struggle with the symptoms of their brain injury and see the impact a brain injury can have on all aspects of their lives. Some brain injuries can be catastrophically life-changing leading to some people needing round the clock care for their many additional needs. I also see many clients with brain injuries who struggle with the more hidden symptoms. These can include symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, mood swings and anxiety, increased vulnerability and loss of sense of taste and smell. All symptoms which can have a hugely disabling impact on all aspects of daily living. 

Everyone’s brain injury is different and it’s vital to support my clients to get the most bespoke therapies and care to aid their rehabilitation.

Something has to change to protect players

The vital research carried out by the SFA highlights the risk that former professionals were three-and-a-half times as likely as a member of the public to die from brain disease, five times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s and four times more likely to die of motor neurone disease. Something has to change to protect these players and stop complacency around brain health.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and their families following a brain injury at our dedicated brain injuries claims section

Professional footballers in Scotland are to be banned from heading the ball in training the day before and the day after a game.

Clubs are also being told to limit exercises that involve repetitive heading to one session per week.

The new guidelines come after Glasgow University research that showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease.”