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PFA calls for reduced heading in football amid Dementia debate

The player’s union, following a Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Management Committee meeting, have called for the heading of football in training to be reduced and monitored.

The meeting was called after concerns had been raised once again following the death of Nobby Stiles, an England World Cup winner, who developed the neurodegenerative condition in his retirement from the game.

Stiles is not the only former England player to have fallen victim to dementia since retirement. His teammates, Jack Charlton, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson have also sadly passed away, whilst recently Sir Bobby Charlton was given the diagnosis for the brain disease.

In 2019, the PFA-charity funded study, FIELD, found that footballers had 3.5 times the death rate from a neurodegenerative condition than the rest of the general population, leading to the PFA encouraging tougher restrictions on heading the ball.

A statement read: “With the information currently available, the PFA is supportive of a reduction of heading in training as a measure to potentially reduce long-term health risks.

“We are calling on the support of clubs, leagues and The FA to create a coordinated strategy to measure, monitor and adapt training, identifying protections that can make a difference to the long-term health of players.”

The PFA have been questioned over their player welfare considerations regarding the issues relating to the link between ex-footballers and neurodegenerative diseases. In a statement released last week by Stiles’ family, they expressed how they hoped that the England legends “death is the catalyst for this scandal to be addressed.”

PFA Chairman, Ben Purkiss said: “Science has been developing quickly in this area, and we need to make an urgent intervention based on the evidence that is available now. A reduction of heading in training is a practical and straightforward step.

“We will be engaging with members, former members and their families to work on this area within the scope of the PFA’s new advisory group, where decisions will be made on the basis of expert advice.”

Alongside the introduction of reduced heading in training, the PFA are working towards seeing an introduction of ‘concussion substitutions’, defined as a way for players to be temporarily replaced whilst being assessed on the sidelines for concussion, according to the union’s assistant chief executive Simon Barker.

“There are a number of protections that are in place. We're still lobbying FIFA, through IFAB (the International Football Association Board) to hopefully get concussion substitutions in place," Barker said, speaking to Sky Sports News.

“We're very hopeful there will be a trial period for that, and hopefully then put into the laws of the game, maybe in the summer.

“It's very important that we keep lobbying for this. In some other countries it's not seen as a major problem so it's important that we actually show them what the issues are.

“From January, we're hoping that there might be a trial period. I think all the leagues will look to be part of that trial and then hopefully we can get it in the actual laws of the game, which goes down to grassroots football as well.”

Author: Jake Wilkin