London (AFP) – The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has urged the English Football Association to ban children under 10 heading balls amid growing fears of brain injuries.
A new study from the University of Stirling found heading a ball could cause memory problems for 24 hours and experts want to study the implications for younger players whose brains are still developing.
At least 250 former footballers have been diagnosed with serious degenerative brain conditions in recent years and PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor says football’s governing body should consider following the example of the United States, where children 12 or younger are already banned from heading.
“I think that has to be a serious consideration. It is not a knee-jerk reaction,”PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor told the Daily Telegraph on Friday.
“It would be a considered reaction bearing in mind evidence that has been coming through from different sports and to a limited extent in football.
“There have been rule changes for youngsters about pitches they play on, about the numbers in the game, about whether or not girls should be involved with boys and up to what age.
“It is very much in line with that. We don’t want to put off the next generation but we need to be very mindful. The game needs to have a duty of care to all its participants.”
Former West Bromwich Albion and England star Jeff Astle died in 2002 from a brain trauma caused by heading the heavy leather footballs used when he played the 1960s and 1970s.
And the issue has become even more of a concern in recent years despite the change to lighter balls.
The Stirling study reported a reduction in memory performance of 41-67 per cent in the 24 hours after players headed a football 20 times.
Memory function did return to normal 24 hours later but the call for urgent and more detailed research is likely to grow louder following the report.
Dr Willie Stewart collaborated on the research and told the Telegraph “It stunned me that just a single session of practice – nothing untoward, nothing out of the ordinary – could produce that immediate change.
“I did not expect to see any real changes to the brain. My jaw hit the table when I looked at the results.”