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English FA to probe football dementia link

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English Football Association PHOTO: Reuters

The English Football Association is commissioning new research into what causes an increased risk of dementia among professional players, it announced on Thursday.

A 2019 study carried out in Scotland found that professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from the neurodegenerative disease compared with members of the general population.

That project, led by the University of Glasgow, was co-funded by the FA and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).

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FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: “This call for research is the next important step in our commitment to understanding more about the link between neurodegenerative disorders in former professional footballers.

“The interim findings of the FIELD study gave us some groundbreaking insight. However, the parameters of the study meant that it was not able to answer exactly what causes the link, which will now be the primary focus for this research.”

England and Manchester United great Bobby Charlton has been diagnosed with dementia. Charlton’s brother Jack and their fellow 1966 World Cup-winner Nobby Stiles were both suffering from dementia when they died.

Two potential risk factors could be the repeated heading of the ball and incidents of concussion.

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PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor, whose organisation will jointly fund the research, said he hoped it would “inform protections for current players and help make the sport as safe as possible for future generations”.

A working group is looking at the possible introduction of guidelines around heading in training at professional level.

Coaches are already being advised not to practise heading in training young children

The issue of head injuries is also a live one for rugby.

A group of ex-players, including England’s 2003 World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson, are exploring legal action against World Rugby, England’s Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union after being diagnosed with neurological conditions.

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