Children could be banned from heading the ball in Scotland due to links between football and dementia, it was reported today.
BBC Scotland said the Scottish Football Association is set to announce the ban for under-12s later this month.
The United States have put a similar ban in place since 2015 but the SFA would become the first European country to impose such a restriction.
The decision follows the release of a report by the University of Glasgow last October, which discovered former professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of a degenerative brain disease. Former Arsenal and Celtic striker John Hartson praised the Scottish FA for their stance on the subject.
He told the BBC: “Heading was a massive part of my game. Managers bought me because I could head the ball.
“There have been some serious situations where players have lost their lives and ex-legends suffering from dementia, so I’m glad the SFA are leading the rest of football and doing something about it.” A spokesperson for the Scottish FA said: “Since the publication of Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk [FIELD] study by Glasgow University into the link between football and dementia towards the end of last year, the Scottish FA has worked closely with the authors of the research – which includes the men’s national team doctor and medical advisor, Dr John MacLean – and wider football stakeholders to look at practical steps the national sport in this country can take to minimise risk in the area of head trauma.
“Given the study was undertaken using medical records from Scottish footballers, there is an additional onus on the national governing body in this country to take a responsible yet proportionate approach to the findings.
“The presidential team of Rod Petrie and Mike Mulraney, along with chief executive Ian Maxwell, were keen that all possible options were open to discussion but that any final recommendations would be taken with the guidance of the medical experts. “To that end, productive discussions have taken place within the auspices of the Scottish FA’s Professional and Non-Professional Game Boards, as well as main board, on proactive, preventative measures with particular focus on younger age groups.
“It is our intention to finalise those proposals with the relevant stakeholders in early course and further details will be announced thereafter.”
Brain injury association Headway has called for further research to be undertaken.
Chief executive of Headway Peter McCabe said in a statement: “In light of the recent study undertaken by the University of Glasgow which suggested that professional football players have a higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases than the general public, there does seem to be merits in considering such a move. “It is understandable that coaches and parents are looking for clarification on this issue. It is therefore vital that more research is conducted to fully understand what risks, if any, are linked to heading lightweight modern footballs.”
The statement continued: “There are questions about the age limit and speculation suggests this will be 12 years. This infers that a child of 13 years is safe to head the ball. How do we know this to be the case?
“The difficulty we face, in the absence of meaningful research relating to the modern game, is where we draw the line in terms of acceptable risk versus the rewards we know healthy exercise can bring.”
Campaigners praise the move The Scottish Football Association’s move towards a ban for under-12s is a “positive step” according to campaigner Dawn Astle, who hopes other governing bodies follow its lead.
Ms Astle’s father, former West Brom and England striker Jeff Astle, died aged 59 in 2002 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of dementia caused by brain injury. The coroner ruled that his death had been caused by the repeated trauma of heading the ball, describing it as an “industrial disease”.
“We’re very pleased, we applaud them for trying to put things in place to reduce the risk and not hanging on and hanging on and keep saying ‘more research, more research’,” she said. “The FIELD study is a very strong study which clearly shows the amount of risk footballers are at, so I applaud them and I hope that children in other countries – English, Welsh, whatever – mean as much to our specific FAs as clearly Scottish children do to theirs.
“It’s a very positive step to reduce the risk and make sure their kids are OK. My dad’s dementia started at some point, didn’t it, and it’s always been my belief that it manifested in my dad – although no one was aware of it – when heading footballs as a kid.
“Children’s brains are more vulnerable because they’re still growing.”
Ex England player Steven Gerrard: Children should be able to head lighter balls Rangers boss Steven Gerrard agrees the dementia issue needs to be tackled – but favours an alternative approach to an all-out ban for youngsters.
He said: “It’s certainly something I back in terms of the seriousness of the dementia risk. But there’s ways you can do it when it comes to the debate over banning heading totally for under 12s. “I used to love heading balls, probably from the age of four.
“So I wouldn’t take it away from them completely because they will be watching their heroes every day on the TV, heading and scoring goals.
“But [there are] certainly things you can help them with by making the balls smaller or lighter or doing heading in a different way without using the heavy case balls.”
Children under the age of 12 have been banned from heading footballs in training under updated guidelines from the Scottish FA.
There should also be a phased introduction to headers for older kids up to under-18 level, according to the SFA’s guidance, produced in consultation with UEFA and the English FA to mitigate against any potential future risks being established.
The changes come in the wake of Glasgow University’s FIELD study which found that former footballers were at a greater risk of dying from brain disease.
Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA chief executive said: “While it is important to re-emphasise there is no research to suggest that heading in younger age groups was a contributory factor in the findings of the FIELD study into professional footballers, nevertheless Scottish football has a duty of care to young people, their parents and those responsible for their wellbeing throughout youth football.
“The updated guidelines are designed to help coaches remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football in the earliest years, with a phased introduction at an age group considered most appropriate by our medical experts.
“It is important to reassure that heading is rare in youth football matches but we are clear that the guidelines should mitigate any potential risks.
“We will also look to monitor and review the guidance as part of our commitment to making the national game a safe and enjoyable environment for young people.”
The recommendations will incorporate all children’s and youth football in Scotland and include the following recommendations:
Heading should not be introduced in training sessions from the age of six through to 11.
Heading should be considered a low coaching priority between the ages of 12 to 15 years however training sessions can be introduced. These should be limited to one session of no more than five headers per week at 13 years, increasing to 10 headers per session at 14 and 15.
It is acknowledged that heading will begin to form part of the game at 12 and should be permitted, however, coaches are encouraged to promote a style of play that limits long passing.
Heading burden will remain restricted to one training session per week for 16 and 17-year-olds and coaches should be mindful of limiting repetitions during that session.
The FIELD study began after the death of 59-year-old former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle in January 2002, a coroner ruling he had died from dementia brought on by repeatedly heading a football.