In: Industrial Disease, Personal Injury

After a number of concerning findings about the impact of football on the brain, a fresh study has found that the risk of developing dementia is even greater for defenders, and that the length of your career can have a big impact on your risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease.

Back in 2019, a study carried out by Professor Willie Stewart found that former football players were roughly three and a half times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative brain disease than the general population. This information was supported by a number of high-profile cases in the press and figures in the football world who had been diagnosed with dementia. Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles both suffered with dementia before they died, while Sir Bobby Charlton has also been diagnosed. Football was not the only sport to be hit with these figures – a number of big names in Rugby have also been forced into early retirement after they found that continually playing the sport had caused irreparable cognitive damage.

Professor Stewart has now carried out even more research, and found that the risk is highest among defenders, with them being five times more likely to have dementia than non-footballers. That is compared with three times the risk for forwards, and almost no extra risk for goalkeepers compared with the average population. Outfield players were four times more likely to develop a brain disease such as dementia. The research was carried out at the University of Glasgow and funded by the Football Association and players’ union the Professional Footballers’ Association, also found that risk increased the longer a player’s football career was. Concerningly, there was no evidence that to suggest that recent developments in football have improved a player’s prognosis. Changes in football technology and head-injury management appear to have had little impact, as there is little evidence to suggest that neurodegenerative disease risk changed for footballers in this study, whose careers spanned from about 1930 to the late 1990s. Dr Stewart stated that, ‘I think footballs should be sold with a health warning saying repeated heading in football may lead to increased risks of dementia…unlike other dementias and degenerative diseases, where we have no idea what causes them, we know the risk factor [with football] and it’s entirely preventable…Football is great for you, there is less cancer and cardiovascular problems for players, but there are dreadful levels of dementia and I can’t see the benefit of that.’

All of this new research comes a week after English football have published recommended limits on heading in amateur and grassroots football. This comes off the back of previous restrictions that have been rolled out across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for heading in youth teams. From next season, professional players will be limited to 10 ‘higher-force’ headers in training from long passes, corners or free-kicks, whereas in the amateur game players should be limited to 10 headers per week. However, Dr Stewart was critical of these guidelines, and said that they were based on ‘unscientific guesswork.’

All of this research is bringing a number of questions to the world of sport, ones that will have to be carefully considered in the future of both professional and amateur players. If you have been affected by any of these issues either in your playing career or due to the negligence of a local club, then you can seek legal advice to see what the next steps are. You could claim compensation to support you.

Read more on our head & brain injury compensation page.

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