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FIFA under fire from experts for continuing to put players at risk of brain injury

Footballers are at risk of brain injury due to FIFA’s continued failure to provide guidelines on how to race, experts have told the Moss

The governing body has been accused of ‘procrastination’ while other federations have published advice to protect players from the risk of dementia and related diseases.

The FA issued guidelines a year ago that adult soccer players should be limited to 10 high-impact headers per week during training. It also said heads should not be introduced into youth academies for the under 14 level.

The FA has issued guidelines to protect players from the risk of dementia and related diseases

The FA has issued guidelines to protect players from the risk of dementia and related diseases

Meanwhile, in June 2020 UEFA published a small set of recommendations to limit the number of categories among underage players.

But FIFA has yet to follow suit with similar guidelines and told this newspaper it has maintained its position that further research is needed to link head and brain injuries.

Luke Griggs, deputy director of Headway, a brain injury charity, said the governing body’s lack of action indicated leadership failure. “Football’s continued procrastination when it comes to improving the way soccer copes with brain injuries is frustrating,” Griggs said.

It’s been 20 years since a coroner ruled that Jeff Astle, the former England player, died of an industrial illness and only in recent years has football gradually begun to fund research. Meanwhile, families of former players with early dementia are left without support or answers.’

A coroner found that former football player Jeff Astle (above) had died of 'industrial illness' in 2002

A coroner found that former football player Jeff Astle (above) had died of ‘industrial illness’ in 2002

When asked for its stance on the risks of heading this week, FIFA pointed to previous answers it had provided.

In October, it told the Moss“While the well-being of all players remains FIFA’s priority, FIFA believes that further research is needed in this area to establish a formal link between head and brain injuries.”

A spokesperson pointed to an interview in which Andy Massey, FIFA’s medical director, raised the issue. “The bottom line is that heading is part of football,” Massey said, “and if there is a risk involved in heading, we need to be open about it and let people make their own decision as to whether: a) they want to play football; or b) they want to head the ball during football. That’s very simple.

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“We do need to think about the younger age groups who may not be able to make that informed, voluntary decision and protect them.”

The Football Association’s guidelines, published in July last year, said head should be given ‘low priority’ in training until the age of 16. From then on, players must be limited to the same adult limit of one session per week, with 10 higher force headers per player.

The FA defined a header as a cross, corner, free kick or pass from more than 35 metres.

UEFA’s guidelines, released in June 2020, did not set a cap on the course, but did advise reducing exercises ‘as far as possible’, especially among young players.

They also suggested how to implement this improvement, citing smaller field sizes, smaller goals, and fewer players per team as examples. It went on to say that coaches should be educated about the importance of introducing head exercises gradually as players progress through the age groups.

Griggs suggested FIFA follow the FA’s lead, but added that guidelines alone were not enough to protect players from developing brain problems later in life.

“The principle of reducing or delaying exposure to repetitive headbutts is a good one,” Griggs said. ‘That’s why we support the principle of introducing limits, especially for younger age groups.

Sportsmail's dementia campaign was launched last November and has received support

sports postThe campaign against dementia was launched last November and has received support

“The problem is in how these guidelines are introduced and ‘sold’ to those who play and coach the game.

“We need more than just guidelines, protocols or posters on locker room walls. Without training you will not get a buy-in at any level of the game.’

A FIFA spokesperson insisted that tackling the issue of dementia and related diseases was a priority for them.

“FIFA has made tackling brain injuries in football a primary goal of the medical department,” the spokesperson said.

“It is currently investigating global research in all areas of brain health and is in regular contact with leading research centers and experts to develop guidelines on a variety of medical topics to share the latest findings with its member associations.”

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