A group of former professional football players and Parliamentarians have joined forces to call for an urgent review into the possible link between heading the ball and degenerative neurocognitive diseases such as dementia.

In a letter addressed to Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, co-ordinated by Mickey Ambrose (formally Charton and Chelsea) and signed by Clive Wilson (ex-Chelsea & QPR), Dean Wilkins (ex-Chelsea & Millwall), Vinny Samways (ex-Spurs), Mark McCammon (ex-Charlton), Phil Brown (ex-Hull City Manager), Peter Reid (ex-Everton and England), Viv Anderson (ex-Nottingham Forest and England) and Darren Moore (Doncaster Rovers Manager and ex-West Bromwich Albion), the former players, say:

“We are writing to you as former professional footballers, who have played at all levels of the game, including representing our country.

“Last year saw the publication of a landmark study (the FIELD study) that sought to identify whether there was any link between heading the ball and an increase in the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease.

“While the report said there was no definitive link, it confirmed that players were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia and other neurological diseases than the general population.

“Following the study’s publication, the FA in parallel with UEFA’s medical committee published new guidelines that apply to all young players.

“Measures included a complete prohibition of header training for children below the age of 12 and a graduated process to headers there-after.

“We welcome these measures but believe they do not go far enough.”

The players go on to praise a campaign by a national newspaper, which has been highlighting this issue in recent months.

The letter concludes:

“The national newspaper also published a 7-point charter, calling for more research into this area, recognition of dementia as an industrial disease and better support for former players who have been diagnosed with dementia and their families…

“Therefore, we would urge you to publicly back these sensible measures and to ask Parliament to review the links between neurological diseases and heading the ball and whether the current guidelines are adequate to protect players at every level of the game.”

An almost identical letter, signed by a cross-party group of MPs and peers has been sent to Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. It urges the Committee to examine the topic saying:

“A recent article in the Daily Mail reported on new research that showed just 20 headers with a modern ball are enough to immediately — and significantly — impact brain function.

“As another study from University College London (UCL) and Cardiff University, published in 2017 put it, the brains of the six players they looked at were similar to those of ex-boxers with changes that are often associated with repeated brain injury…

“Given football continues to be the UK’s most popular team sport with some 1.9 million participants in England alone, we think this an important public safety campaign that is worthy of support.

“We would further urge you to back an investigation into the current research, whether restrictions go far enough especially for adolescents and whether the support offered to former footballers suffering degenerative neurological diseases is adequate.”

Signatories of this letter include former Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn, former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, Conservative MP Peter Bone, DUP MP Jim Shannon, Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper and Labour MPs Grahame Morris and Jamie Stone.

Alistair Thompson, the UK Campaign Director for FERW, commented:

“I am delighted that so many former players and parliamentarians have joined forces to support the call for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to investigate what football’s authorities are doing to keep millions of players in the UK safe.

“While the FIELD study was ground-breaking and resulted in some positive changes, many important questions remain. Why were amateur players and professional women not included? Do the changes introduced, following its’ publication, go far enough? What are their plans to build on this study?

“Sadly, the answers to these points and many others have not been forthcoming. This is why FERW supports the Mail’s campaign, why we believe that Parliament has a moral duty to investigate the possible link between heading the ball and conditions such as dementia and why MPs need to hold those in charge of the game of football to account.”

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