A long-awaited study in the UK into the links between heading a football and brain damage will start in January, BBC News reports that the Football Association has announced. The doctor who claimed former striker Jeff Astle died because of repeated head trauma is to lead the study. Dr Willie Stewart said his study would aim to "provide some understanding of the long-term health impact of football within the next two to three years".
"This is a huge day for football," former England captain Alan Shearer is quoted in the report as saying. In the recent BBC documentary Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me, the ex-Newcastle United striker highlighted the case of Astle.
The report says a former England international, Astle developed dementia and died in 2002 at the age of 59. The inquest into his death found repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs had contributed to trauma to his brain. After the inquest, research was commissioned by the FA and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) but it was later dropped because of what were said to be technical flaws.
The report says Astle's family has campaigned for the football authorities to launch a comprehensive research programme. His daughter Dawn said she was "relieved" the study was now going ahead. "I hope we can get some closure. I am still angry and upset. It will be 2018 when the study starts, it's 16 lost and wasted years, and in the meantime players are dying."
The report says Stewart was appointed by the FA and PFA, who had invited applications for independent research in March. His study will be titled 'Football's Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk'. Stewart said: "In the past decade there have been growing concerns around perceived increased risk of dementia through participation in contact sports, however, research data to support and quantify this risk have been lacking."
PFA CEO Gordon Taylor added: "Neurological problems in later life which may be connected to concussion, head injuries and heading the ball have been on our agenda for the last 20 years."
Shearer is quoted in the report as saying: "When you consider what the coroner said in 2002, and nothing has been done until now, then it is a big day. It has been a long time coming and I am delighted the FA and PFA have now backed it and we can now get the answer that football needs."
FA CEO Martin Glenn said the new research "will be one the most comprehensive studies ever commissioned into the long-term health of former footballers". He added: "Dementia can have a devastating effect and, as the governing body of English football, we felt compelled to commission a significant new study in order to fully understand if there are any potential risks associated with playing the game."BBC News report