Gordon Taylor to give evidence to concussion inquiry next week

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Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
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Outgoing Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor will give evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into concussion in sport next week, it has been confirmed.

Taylor, who has been the head of the players’ union since 1981 but will vacate the role in June, has been criticised in the past by campaigners such as Dawn Astle and Chris Sutton for not doing enough to investigate the possible link between heading the ball and an increased risk of dementia.

He will address MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee on Tuesday morning, the committee has announced.

Chris Sutton has been an outspoken critic of Taylor and the PFA
Chris Sutton has been an outspoken critic of Taylor and the PFA (PA)

At the last evidence session in the inquiry Astle accused the PFA and the Football Association of shoving one research study on the subject “in a drawer” while Sutton says Taylor has “blood on his hands” and accused him of inaction on the issue.

Astle’s father Jeff, a former footballer with West Brom, died in 2002. A coroner ruled that he had died as a result of repeated heading of the ball and it was recorded as death by an industrial disease.

Sutton’s father Mike, like him a former professional player, suffered with dementia for many years before his death in December last year.

The chief executive of the Rugby Players’ Association, Damian Hopley, will also appear at the same session, the committee confirmed.

The PFA and FA did jointly fund the FIELD study, which in 2019 found professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.

The two organisations have subsequently funded or supported other ongoing research projects investigating the link via an independently chaired research task force.

The Premier League is also trialling mouthguard technology with a view to heading guidelines being introduced into professional football and the adult grassroots game, to supplement existing advice for under-18s.

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Taylor said last month that the PFA had “done more than any other players union, sporting union or trade union on this issue” and is expected to launch a fierce defence of its work.

Taylor wrote to the game’s law-making body, the International Football Association Board, urging it to extend its concussion substitutes trial to include the use of temporary subs.

It claimed the permanent substitution model, currently being trialled in the Premier League, had “jeopardised player health” in some circumstances.

He is likely to face a grilling from committee chair Julian Knight, who has referenced Taylor’s near £2million annual salary and equated it to the money spent on research at previous hearings.

Knight repeatedly asked FA head of medicine Charlotte Cowie at the most recent session on March 23 what her organisation’s annual research budget was.

She pointed out there was no fixed figure because it was based on how much researchers sought to complete their work from the task force, but Knight and his fellow MPs seemed unimpressed.

Knight said: “I think you are too embarrassed (to give a figure) and I can’t blame you.”

Tuesday’s session will also hear from Paul Struthers, a director at the Professional Players Federation, Dr John Etherington, a consultant rheumatologist, and Dr Richard Sylvester, a consultant neurologist.