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Footballers need to use head less

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Even pros like Brandon Williams should head the ball less

Even pros like Brandon Williams should head the ball less

PA

Even pros like Brandon Williams should head the ball less

Heading in football should be reduced in the professional game, not just in the under-12s, according to the leader of an influential study which found an increased risk of brain disease among footballers.

The Scottish Football Association is moving towards a ban on heading in training for under-12s, something which no other European country currently has in place.

However, the timescale remains unclear. It could be in place for the grassroots season, which runs from March to November.

The move follows the publication last October of the initial findings from the FIELD study carried out by researchers at the University of Glasgow, which discovered that footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.

Professor Willie Stewart is the consultant neuropathologist leading that research and argues that while no definitive link between head injury or impact and dementia among footballers has been established, there is enough evidence to require action to be taken now.

But he insists heading has to be curtailed at all levels of the game, not just in the youngest players.

He said: "A move to reduce head impacts in youth sports is a good idea, but I would caution that that's probably not enough. It's not enough just to say 'let's take heading out of the game in under-12s'. I think we need to look across the entire game - amateurs, seniors, professionals - and say 'where else can we make changes to be effective?'

"And not just in football, look across all sports and think 'what could we do differently?' It's a good start, but I hope that this isn't the end, that by changing under-12s we're somehow solving the problem.

"We haven't got the cast-iron evidence of direct causality but what we have is more than enough evidence, adding up over the decades and right up to the FIELD study at the end of last year, which says there's a strong association between contact sports and development of dementia.

"And when we look at what is the common factor, exposure to head injury and head impact is the one thing that stands through."