LEGAL action has been mounted by a group of American “soccer moms” against football’s governing body over the long-term effects of headers.
The lawsuit, which could have huge implications for the sport across the world, has been lodged in a Californian court by five women.
It calls for restrictions on heading the ball due to what it describes as an “epidemic of concussive injuries” among children in sport.
Governing body Fifa has been urged to stop young children from heading footballs and faces an accusation of leaving players vulnerable to brain injuries caused by concussion.
The lawsuit states players under 17 should not be allowed to head the ball in training – “or be limited in the number per week” – and under-14s “should not head at all, or be limited in the number of headers”.
Five women are behind the action, named in legal papers as Rachel Mehr, Beata Ivanauskiene, Sarah Aranda, Kira Akka-Seidel and Karen Christine O’Donoghue, with Fifa named as a defendant along with five football organisations in the US.
The women are demanding a court order to insist the laws of the game, drawn up by the International Football Association Board, must “provide proper concussion management”.
The court papers refer to incidents at the 2014 World Cup where players took blows to the head but were able to continue in matches, including the case of Germany’s Christoph Kramer. Kramer took a heavy knock early in the final but was allowed to play on, only to be later substituted. Afterwards, he admitted he could remember little of his involvement.
“At least 30 per cent of concussions in soccer are caused by heading the ball or by attempting to head the ball and colliding with a player, object or the ground”, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit, which is not seeking monetary damages, states that heading a football “can result in problems of memory and attention”, and warns that youngsters “may be more susceptible to damage resulting from repetitive concussion and sub-concussive brain trauma”.
Former England player Jeff Astle died in 2002, and was found by a coroner to have been suffering from brain damage caused by heading footballs.
Fifa said it had not received any communication on the matter and as such was in no position to comment. In general terms, Fifa said it assigns “high priority” to the prevention and treatment of head injuries, specifying a change to the laws of the game in 2006 when incidents of foul play that cause concussion became red-card offences.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government produced guidance on concussion in sport following the death of 14-year-old Ben Robinson, who died from “second-impact syndrome” during a school rugby match in Northern Ireland.
The teenager played on for 25 minutes after receiving an initial concussion and was involved in two further heavy collisions.
A Scottish FA spokesman said it followed the guidance of experts from a conference on concussion held in Zurich in 2012.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “It is critically important that everyone involved in youth sport is aware of the symptoms of concussion.”