Football bosses summoned to explain why they have not joined dementia fund

1966 World Cup winners
1966 World Cup winners

The Football Association and the English Football League will be summoned to a Government roundtable at which they will be asked why they are not contributing to an industry care fund for footballers suffering with dementia.

In a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, MPs heard stories of football heroes being forced to sell their homes to pay for dementia care and how, in contrast, the NFL in America had provided a fund worth hundreds of millions for former players with neurodegenerative disease.

“There are thousands of footballers caught up in this, in financial difficulty, and what we really need is that understanding, based on scientific evidence, that this needs to be classed as an industrial injury,” said Ian Blackford, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. “We can’t allow this to be dragged out. The evidence I would argue now is overwhelming.”

A 2019 study by the University of Glasgow of almost 8,000 players found that former professionals were 3½ times more likely to die of brain disease than the wider population, including a five-fold increased risk of Alzheimer’s and a four-fold risk of motor neurone disease. “This is no longer a matter of tragic stories being brought into the public domain,” said Damian Collins, the MP for Folkestone.

Although a £1 million Premier League/Professional Footballers’ Association fund has been established, concerns were raised about its sustainability and a cap of £60,000 that has been imposed on payouts to individual players. MPs heard that 1966 World Cup hero Nobby Stiles had annual care costs of more than £100,000 in the year he died, aged 78, after living with dementia since his sixties. Stiles had earlier been forced to sell his World Cup-winners’ medal. “Not everyone is in that position; many other footballers and their families can be in a position where they are required to sell the family home – some former players have had to sell their homes,” said Collins.

“There needs to be a properly resourced fund. There is enough money in football to provide this compensation for players that clearly need it. The EFL and FA are not part of that [fund] and need to be. I think there is a case for looking at player welfare as part of the remit of the regulator.”

Gavin Williamson, the former education and defence secretary, said that “it’s not just for the Premier League, it’s not just for the PFA, but it’s for the FA and the EFL” and that, by coming together, so much more could be done.

Sports minister Stuart Andrew agreed that “more work is still needed” and said that he would meet families before speaking directly to governing bodies. “I will be more than happy to convene a meeting or roundtable, with all of the interested bodies, and reflect the comments,” he said.

The FA and EFL are both subject to legal action regarding their handling of brain injuries. The EFL believes that discussions on a care fund cannot be progressed while the claim remains outstanding. The FA have focussed resources on research into this area, as well as some clinical services, and part-funded the Glasgow study.