Scottish footballers to be banned from heading the ball in training around matchdays
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A new study carried out by the University of Glasgow found that former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease, and researchers believe there may be a connection with repeated heading.
Since 2020 the Scottish FA has had stringent guidelines in place to limit the amount of heading in youth football, with headers in training banned for those aged 12 and under, following a study the previous year that highlighted a link between dementia and former professional footballers.
The new advice is being brought in following consultation with the 50 professional clubs in the men's and women's game in Scotland, and follows a survey carried out by Hampden chiefs to gain a better picture of heading trends among footballers. Teams in the country have also been told to monitor heading in training, with an end goal of reducing the ‘overall burden of contact’.
Scotland already has a set of universal sport concussion guidelines, introduced in 2018 and titled ‘If in doubt, sit them out’. The instructions were the first of their kind in the world and are aimed at the general public and those involved in grassroots sport.
Scottish FA Chief Executive Ian Maxwell said: “The study, which found an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in retired professional footballers compared to a matched population control group, has been a catalyst for a radical rethink of football guidance, starting in the youth game with the introduction of the heading guidelines children between the ages of 6-17 in 2020.
“The Scottish FA said at the time that this research should shape the thinking in the adult game not just domestically but across the world. I am grateful to everyone in the professional game for contributing to the latest research. It is our intention that these guidelines will be embraced and implemented with immediate effect, and represent our ongoing commitment to player welfare.”
Dr John MacLean, who serves as Chief Medical Consultant to Scottish football’s governing body, added: “Both head injury and heading have been suggested as possible contributing factors to neurodegenerative disease. While research continues to develop, we already know that heading and its effects on the brain suggest a measurable memory impairment lasting 24-48 hours following a series of headers, and that brain-related proteins can be detected in blood samples for a short time after heading.
"Brain-scan changes have also been reported in footballers that may be linked to heading. The goal is to reduce any potential cumulative effect of heading by reducing the overall exposure in training.”
Andy Gould, the Association’s Chief Football Officer, paid tribute to clubs for their assistance, saying: “There already exists a lot of data around in-match heading but this latest research has been invaluable in understanding the extent of heading load within the training environment.
“I am grateful to the clubs, managers and players for providing us with the information and perspectives required to facilitate an informed and data-driven discussion which has culminated in the publication of guidelines designed to protect the safety and wellbeing of our players.”