Mr Julian Knight MP
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
House of Commons
Tuesday 22nd December 2020
Re: Possible link to footballers heading the ball and degenerative neurocognitive disease
Earlier today the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will have received a letter organised by the ex-professional footballer/campaigner Mickey Ambrose and our organisation.
We are delighted to be supporting Mickey, the signatories of that letter and all players and coaches, past and present who have urged football’s authorities to take action on the growing body of evidence that repeatedly heading the ball increases the chances of degenerative neurocognitive disease such as dementia.
Last year, the FA published 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.
The research found that one in ten (11 per cent) former professional footballers died from dementia, compared to around to one in 33 (3 per cent) for a similar socio-demographically matched sample.
This means that professional footballers in this research sample were 3.5 times more likely to die of dementia.
While the report stopped short of identifying a definitive link, it strongly suggests one exists. The report did not look at the amateur players.
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.
Like the former professional footballers who signed the letter to Oliver Dowden, we welcome these measures but believe they do not go far enough.
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.
It suggests that teams should limit the number of headers in any training session to a maximum of 20, with a minimum of 48 hours between each session.
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.
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.
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.
Grahame Morris MP
Peter Bone MP
Hilary Benn MP
Kim Johnson MP
Wera Hobhouse MP
Gavin Newlands MP
Jim Shannon MP
Baroness Jones of Mouslecoomb
Baroness Taylor of Bolton
Barbara Keeley MP
Daisy Cooper MP
Claudia Webbe MP
Jamie Stone MP
C.C. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, and members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
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