The Scottish Football Association’s move towards a ban on heading in the under-12s game are a “positive step” according to campaigner Dawn Astle, who hopes other governing bodies follow its lead.
The SFA is reported to be close to introducing such a ban in training, although the timescale for this to happen remains unclear.
Astle’s father, former West Brom and England striker Jeff Astle, died aged 59 in 2002 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of dementia caused by brain injury. The coroner ruled that his death had been caused by the repeated trauma of heading the ball, describing it as an “industrial disease”.
She welcomed the news, which comes following the publication of the FIELD study conducted at the University of Glasgow which found footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disease than age-matched non-players.
“We’re very pleased, we applaud them for trying to put things in place to reduce the risk and not hanging on and hanging on and keep saying ‘more research, more research’,” she told the PA news agency.
“The FIELD study is a very strong study which clearly shows the amount of risk footballers are at, so I applaud them and I hope that children in other countries – English, Welsh, whatever – mean as much to our specific FAs as clearly Scottish children do to theirs.
“It’s a very positive step to reduce the risk and make sure their kids are OK. My dad’s dementia started at some point, didn’t it, and it’s always been my belief that it manifested in my dad – although no one was aware of it – when heading footballs as a kid.
“Children’s brains are more vulnerable because they’re still growing.”
It is understood there is unanimity between the SFA board, the professional and non-professional game boards and medical representatives to recommend such a ban. It could be in place for the grassroots season, which runs from March to November.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard agrees work must continue to establish whether there is a link between playing the game and dementia, but believes heading practice still has a place in grassroots football.
“I used to love heading balls, probably from the age of four,” he said.
“So I wouldn’t take it away from them completely because they will be watching their heroes every day on the TV, heading and scoring goals.
“But you can certainly do things; you can help them by making the balls smaller or lighter, or doing heading in a different way, without using the heavy-case balls.”