“Meanwhile, it is sensible to act to reduce exposure to the only recognized risk factor so far.’
A BAN on heading footballs in training has been introduced across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland for children of Primary School age.
Heading restrictions have also been brought in for Under 18s after research showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease and five times more likely to die from Parkinson’s.
The measures, announced earlier this week, recommend a total ban on heading in training for children of primary school age, a maximum of five headers a month for Under 12s, 20 a month for Under 13s and 40 a month for Under 16s, with heading drills reduced “as far as possible” between 16 and 18.
While research into the impact of heading the ball is ongoing, the FA said the new guidance had been issued to “mitigate against any potential risks”.
The rules have been introduced following a University of Glasgow study, published in October last year. Dr Willie Stewart, the consultant neuropathologist who led the study, was encouraged by the changes and said: “A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers.
“Meanwhile, it is sensible to act to reduce exposure to the only recognised risk factor so far.’
However, Dr Stewart added that he would like to see the measures adopted by the wider game.
“This is a start but we also need to think about adult football,” he said.
“There are instances where professional footballers head the ball hundreds of times a week. Is it really necessary for that to be in three figures to allow someone to score on a Saturday afternoon?”
Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton, whose father Mike – a former player – is suffering from a degenerative disease caused by repetitive brain trauma, said: “This is hopefully just the start. Nobody is calling for a heading ban in the senior game, just sensible measures which should be introduced.”
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: “This guidance will help coaches and teachers reduce and remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football. Our research has shown heading is rare in youth matches, so this guidance is a responsible development without impacting the enjoyment children take from the game.”
The Football Association of Wales is continuing to review its guidance on children heading the ball.