Double boost in football's attempts to tackle the dementia scandal

Double boost in football’s attempts to tackle the dementia scandal, with £1.2million research project part of a joint action plan to solve the issue

  • A well-funded new research project could help football tackle its dementia crisis 
  • An FA doctor also admitted temporary concussion subs may be the way forward
  • The joint action plan announced on Tuesday is the work of the FA, EFL and PFA

A new £1.2million research project — led by the professor whose landmark study identified ex-players were in greater danger of suffering from brain diseases — is part of a joint action plan launched by football in a bid to tackle its dementia crisis.

And in a further boost for Sportsmail‘s campaign, the FA’s head of medicine has admitted temporary, instead of permanent, concussion substitutions may be the way forward.

The plan, announced on Tuesday, is the work of the FA, EFL and PFA. It focuses on research, awareness and support for players. 

Dr Willie Stewart’s study found ex-professionals were five times more likely to get Alzheimer’s

FA head of medicine Charlotte Cowie said temporary concussion subs may be the way forward

However, it is thin on detail on a care fund for ex-pros and their families grappling with the impact or neurodegenerative diseases — and on how warnings of the dangers involved in heading can be made clear to current players.

Dr Willie Stewart, at the University of Glasgow, carried out the FIELD study, which found ex-pros were 3.5 times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disease and five times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

The BrainHOPE study, set to start in early 2022, will be a new four-year project funded by FIFA and the FA. 

It will look at mid-life brain health in players to explore how their brains are ageing and examine potential interventions — such as mechanisms to lower blood pressure — which could help reduce the risk or speed of developing dementia.

When Sportsmail launched its campaign a year ago we called on the game to fund more research and the project may well prove key. With the backing of Dr Stewart, we also called on the authorities to introduce temporary concussion subs.

Instead, rulemakers IFAB brought in permanent concussion trials across the English game. Some experts believe these do not address the issue, with potentially concussed players reluctant to come off if they know they will be unable to return.

And Charlotte Cowie, the FA’s head of medicine, has disclosed that the debate is far from over. ‘I agree that permanent subs potentially give doctors a lower threshold to remove someone,’ Dr Cowie said. 

John Stiles called for support for families of ex-footballers with neurodegenerative diseases

World Cup winner Nobby Stiles’ brain was found to contain CTE, triggered by head trauma

‘But the fact you are willing to take someone off for concussion reasons and then consider putting them back on 10 minutes later — when we know symptoms can be 20 or 40 minutes or even 24 hours in presenting after collision — means both have a downside. 

‘We are not wedded to permanent subs but that is the model we are trying now. It’s an IFAB decision but it isn’t black and white. We are open to both options.’

Last week, Sportsmail revealed that John Stiles, son of World Cup winner Nobby and a tireless campaigner after his father’s death following a long battle with dementia, had created a leaflet warning players of the dangers of heading and was kicked off the car park at former club Doncaster while trying to hand them out.

‘If the messages aren’t getting through we need to look at that again,’ said Dr Cowie. ‘We are looking at a concussion charter for next season that clubs can sign up to that allows them to advertise themselves as a concussion-aware club.’

In October, football’s various bodies agreed to set up a care fund for ex-players and their families dealing with dementia.

But a statement issued with the plan’s release said such a fund would need better understanding of the number of former players with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

It added that the PFA would lead a survey with ex-players, their families and charities to design an appropriate support mechanism. 




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