Guidelines advising against the teaching of heading in football training for primary school children is proof of “big progress” towards reducing health risks, says PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor.
The football associations of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland announced on Monday they were introducing the guidelines for coaches, which also advises a “graduated approach” to introduce heading training at U12 to U16 level.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, Taylor also referenced the proposed introduction of concussion substitutes, which are expected to be discussed by lawmakers at the International Football Association Board annual general meeting in Belfast on Saturday.
“We have made big progress with the way we are dealing with concussion now and [when] there are possibilities of head injuries, concussion substitutes in the game so it is all part of a process.
“I am pleased that it is being led, it needs to be led by the governing body.
“It includes experts in this field. It is a worldwide problem but it would be good if football could also contribute to dealing with these issues.”
The changes come as a result of a FIELD study, joint-funded by the English FA and the PFA, which was published in October.
Experts at Glasgow University found former professional footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the population.
The study did not identify the cause of the increased risk, but repeated heading of the ball was found to be a likely factor, with Taylor indicating the PFA will continue to be involved in further research into heading.
Dawn Astle, who has campaigned for changes in rules over heading, welcomed the new guidelines as “sensible”.
The coroner ruled the death of the former West Brom striker was caused by the repeated heading of footballs.
The FAs implemented the changes after consultation with UEFA, which is expected to offer Europe-wide guidance on the issue later this year.
The new guidelines were welcomed by Headway, the brain injury association, but it questioned why the ban should be limited to children.
“We cannot allow for key questions to remain unanswered, such as at what age is it safe to head a modern football – if at all?
“Neither can we afford to wait 30 years for the results of a longitudinal study to reveal the answers or hesitate to introduce other common sense measures that protect players – such as concussion substitutes.”
The statement added: “Football has to be willing to react to this growing body of evidence and not solely rely on dementia diagnoses when assessing the relative risks of heading footballs compared to the wider health benefits we know playing sports brings.”
‘Rudiger case must not put players off complaint process’
Meanwhile, Taylor also believes supporters must continue to self-police abuse from within the stands, after no evidence was found to support Antonio Rudiger’s claim he was subjected to racial abuse.
The Chelsea defender alleged he heard monkey noises during their 2-0 win against Tottenham in December, and told Sky in Germany that “racism has won”.
On January 6, Tottenham said they and police had “exhausted” all lines of enquiry but they were unable to “corroborate or contradict” the allegation.
“If a complaint is made and not followed through then it has got to be very frustrating for the individual concerned but you don’t want it to stop that complaint process,” Taylor said.
“Any player needs to be fully supported and believed and for the best possible use of any evidence.”
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