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The Professional Footballers’ Association has launched a major consultation exercise in a bid to uncover the full extent of the dementia problem in English football.
The PA news agency reported last week that the PFA will consult with former players to find out how many are living with neurodegenerative diseases (NDD).
It comes amid concerns that the increased risk of death due to NDD among footballers is linked to how concussions have been managed and the impact on the brain of repetitive heading.
The PFA said it will use insight and data from the consultation as part of ongoing discussions with the Premier League, the Football Association, English Football League and League Managers’ Association about setting up an industry-wide care fund to support players living with dementia and other NDD conditions.
PFA chief executive Maheta Molango said: “As the players’ union, we are the voice of professional footballers. When necessary it is our responsibility to challenge the industry to ensure the wellbeing and interests of players past and present are being protected.
“Since I joined the PFA just under a year ago, there has been a real commitment from football’s stakeholders to working collectively to address the long-term brain health in professional footballers.
“But former players and their families need help right now. The conversations being had need to result in tangible support and, crucially, significant funding.”
The PFA said it has been campaigning for a football-wide response on the issue since the publication of the FIELD study in 2019.
The landmark study, which was jointly funded by the PFA and the FA, found the risk of dementia as the cause of death increased by approximately 3.5 times among ex-professional Scottish footballers.
Dawn Astle, project lead for NDD in Football at the PFA, said: “We currently have hundreds of former players and their families who are suffering as a direct result of their careers in professional football.
“I hope this process will encourage more former players to come forward and help further demonstrate the sheer scale of the issue.”
Astle’s father, Jeff Astle, the former West Brom and England striker, died aged 59 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease just four years earlier. A coroner ruled his death had been caused by repeated heading.
At an inquest last week into the death of former Cardiff player Keith Pontin, a coroner ruled that the NDD which killed him was caused by repeated head injuries suffered as a professional footballer.
David Regan concluded Pontin died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain condition believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head and episodes of concussion.
Dawn Astle added: “I’ve always been clear that the responsibility and duty of care towards players rests, not just with the union, but the entire football industry.”
The PFA wants to speak to former players and families who have concerns about potential conditions, but have not yet received a formal diagnosis, as well as those who are currently living with NDD.
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) must act now to recognise dementia in former footballers as an industrial disease. The verdict of the coroner, along with expert testimony, adds to a mounting weight of evidence that can no longer be ignored by the IIAC. (2/3)
— Professional Footballers' Association (@PFA) May 4, 2022
PFA chair John Mousinho added: “This is an area that is a high priority for the PFA Players’ Board, first and foremost in solidarity with former players and in recognition of the need to secure long-term care provision.
“We also want to raise awareness among current players and strengthen the case with football’s lawmakers to enhance concussion protocols and improve head injury management.”
Former England star Dave Watson and wife Penny have been campaigning tirelessly for the creation of an emergency fund for ex-footballers with dementia.
The 65-cap former England centre-back Watson and his wife have been candid on his condition, in the hope of helping others to seek help.
Now Penny Watson hopes this latest consultation can provide an idea of the numbers of former footballers with dementia.
“We already know about hundreds of former players,” Penny Watson told the PA news agency.
“But there could be many more just quietly doing their best in a difficult situation or even suffering in silence.
“So I would urge anyone to complete this survey, which is fully confidential, because it will help hugely in understanding the scale of the problem.
“We do hope that the stakeholders in the game, the Premier League, FA and EFL, will set up an emergency care fund to help those former players who are worried about their lives, both now and in the future.
“For us as a family, it is not so much about seeking help for Dave and ourselves, but for helping others and younger generations.
“If we can leave a legacy of change and progress, we would be extremely proud.”