Headers in football: Scotland is leading the way in preventing lasting head injuries in sport – Angus Robertson

As the football World Cup is ongoing, research into the impact of heading in the game found that former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain diseases such as dementia than the general public.

Cameroon's Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Serbia's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic compete to head the ball during the two teams' World Cup group match (Picture: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)
Cameroon's Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Serbia's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic compete to head the ball during the two teams' World Cup group match (Picture: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)

It is a scary statistic revealing the very real consequences of an omnipresent part of the game that seemed previously to be innocuous. Indeed, the issue has been brought to the fore following the deaths from dementia of a number of high-profile former footballers, including former England World Cup winner and Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton and former Celtic captain Billy McNeill. Furthermore, heading the ball has also been shown to temporarily affect memory impairment in the days following the match.

As such, new guidelines from the Scottish Football Association (SFA) will ban heading one day before and one day after professional matches to reduce potential impact. Guidelines were already in place limiting heading in youth football. There is a complete ban on headers in training for the under-12 age group.

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Scotland has been leading the way in preventing lasting head injuries in sport. We were the first country in the world to have universal guidelines for all sports regarding concussions. The "if in doubt, sit them out" campaign set a new precedent for better care of sportspeople and showed health and well-being should come above all.

Scottish football clubs engaged positively with the consultation, as did players. It is hoped and expected the guidance will reduce the prevalence of dementia in former players from now on.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary