Football Association welcomes new evidence regarding repetitive head impacts

The FA this month started a trial where heading was removed from selected grassroots competitions and leagues.

By Press Association Published: 27 July 2022 - 7.40am

The Football Association has welcomed new research that has found conclusive evidence that repetitive head impacts can cause degenerative brain disease and offered its support in attempts to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in people still alive.

An international team of experts issued a global call on Tuesday for further CTE prevention and mitigation efforts to be brought in, especially for children, following the publication of Applying the Bradford Hill Criteria for Causation to Repetitive Head Impacts and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in the Frontiers in Neurology journal last week.

Researchers from Oxford Brookes University and 12 other academic institutions producing the study, with analysis provided by Concussion Legacy Foundation UK, found that contact-sport athletes were at least 68 times more likely to develop CTE than those who did not play any contact sport.

Back in 2019, the FIELD study led by Dr Willie Stewart found professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the population, which sparked a flurry of action from the FA and this month it was announced a trial would start to remove heading in selected grassroots competitions and leagues.

CTE can only currently be diagnosed by carrying out a post-mortem, but efforts are under way to create biomarkers in vivo where the progressive brain disease can be confirmed before death. The family of ex-England captain Dave Watson stated last year they believe he is suffering from CTE.

“The Concussion Legacy Foundation is one of our key stakeholders as we develop our pan-football approach to brain health and we welcome the findings of this study,” the FA said in a statement to the PA news agency.

“We have already recognised that repeat head injuries can cause neurodegenerative disease and CTE. Following the FIELD study, our Research Task Force reached the same conclusion as this study, which was that football should look into ways to “minimise and eliminate repetitive head impacts”.

“The Concussion Legacy Foundation is one of our key stakeholders as we develop our pan-football approach to brain health and we welcome the findings of this study”
- Football Association

“This has led to the recent changes in concussion and heading protocols in English football, where we have introduced the most comprehensive guidelines and toughest restrictions on heading anywhere in the world, covering the youth and adult game at all levels.

“We agree with the need for further awareness for parents, athletes, and policymakers and next season will see new education programmes delivered by the professional leagues to all players, and we will continue working on promoting wider awareness.

“We also welcome the study’s recommendation to better understand the mechanism of CTE and develop biomarkers to diagnose CTE in vivo. We have discussed this with our research task force already and, while they recommended that we focus on football-specific research, we would support the wider scientific community’s efforts to develop such biomarkers.”

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