By Ken Reed

There are growing concerns about brain injuries in the soccer community in England.

Recently, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) called for immediate heading restrictions in training sessions following an assessment of research into dementia and neurodegenerative diseases by its management committee.

“Science has been developing quickly in this area, and we need to make an urgent intervention based on the evidence that is available now,” said PFA chairman Ben Purkiss.

A University of Glasgow study found former male professional soccer players had a 3.5 times higher death rate from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s than the comparison group made up of men from the general population. The study had similar conclusions as studies looking at dementia and Alzheimer’s disease cases with former professional football players in the United States. NFL players suffer from Alzheimer’s at a 37 percent higher rate than the average male.

“There is a big issue here, and based on the increasing evidence available, it is clear we need to take immediate steps to monitor and reduce heading within training,” said Gordon Taylor, PFA chief executive officer.

Steps have been taken in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland to lessen the number of blows to the head youth soccer players take in practice sessions. Children up to the age of 12 are banned from heading a ball in practice sessions. There then will be a “graduated approach” to heading in practice for kids aged 12-15. For kids 16 and 17 heading is restricted to one practice session per week.

The new rules on heading for youth soccer players went into effect in January of this year.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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