FOOTBALL: Heading may become a thing of the past for youngsters

The recent spurge of activity regarding head injuries in sport has seen it hit a worrying state in recent times.

George North and Sam Warburton, both apart of the Welsh National Rugby team, have both suffered severe concussions whilst playing.

Sam Warburton was concussed while representing Wales in a crucial Six Nations match against England, when team-mate Alun Wyn Jones’ boot hit the Wales captain at Twickenham in March last year.

Warburton left the field on a stretcher but was conscious. Warburton went on to miss the final match the following week against Italy.

Team-mate of Warburton’s, George North has been a regular feature in the media for his history of head injuries.

North’s club side, Northampton Saints were taking on rivals Leicester Tigers when a clash with Tigers winger Adam Thompstone resulted in North being knocked unconscious after the midair clash.

To everyone’s surprise at The Welford Road Stadium and to the viewers watching on BT Sport, North passed the mandatory head injury assessment and returned to action to continue playing.

Huge controversy followed when the Northampton Saints medical team did not have access to television footage of the incident and missed seeing George North unconscious.

North should have been removed from the field of play and the medical team later acknowledged this.

George North has been in the centre spotlight when it comes to head injuries. (Credit: Sportal)

The occurrence in football of sustaining a concussion based injury is a lot less than in rugby, however The PFA at the end of last year called for authorities to implement a ban on children under the age of 10 to stop them from heading the ball.

Mark Holloway is a Brain Injury Case Manager for Head First, he believes The FA will act on the matter but not anytime soon.

“My guess is that like many self-serving old-boys clubs, the FA will eventually act when the threat of litigation is so great and the weight of evidence unstoppable but not until then.”

“Of course, if there is no evidence, if modern balls and the current culture of play does not promote concussive or sub-concussive injury, then they will not need to act. I doubt this will be the case personally but I will be happy to be wrong.”

“I reckon we have some issues in the post, these will be reduced by lighter balls etc but the fact is that banging your head repeatedly is not something to be recommended. However my knowledge of ABI (acquired brain injury) and my knowledge of a worldwide body of related research leads me to state that the same impact will be differently experienced by different people.”

In the U.S, guidelines have been put in place to stop children heading balls. But what could the future implications be if children are allowed to perform this action from an early age?

“If we can ascertain that there is evidence that heading the ball or repeated heading of the ball, is implicated with the pernicious and cumulative impact of ABI, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) related, then we will have a group of individuals who may experience a range of difficulties. Mostly these impairments to functioning will be invisible but may be associated with reduced functions/abilities that are frontal lobe mediated. This will include planning, organising, inhibiting behavior, initiating behaviour etc.”

“The national brain injury charity Headway, the children’s brain injury charity (CBIT) and the Jeff Astle Foundation have joined forces to demand that research into the real and current risks are investigated. This is important, unless we ascertain the real risks (with today’s weight of ball) then we have no idea of whether we are at risk of banning something that has no risks or of encouraging something that has unacceptably high risks.” said Holloway.

Whether the FA will intervene or the PFA will go ahead with the ban is to be seen, the risk of injuries in sport has never been greater than in the current climate and the persistent search to find safer ways to play is always on peoples minds, the ban could come sooner than many of us may think.

Jack Williams


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