Labour call for dementia in former footballers to be ‘industrial disease’

The Scottish Government is being urged to recognise cases of dementia and brain injury among footballers as an “industrial disease”.

Labour MSP Michael Marra is to raise the issue with ministers at Holyrood, calling for “real action” on the issue.

It comes in the wake of research showing that former footballers have higher dementia rates than the general population.

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Researchers at Glasgow University assessed the medical records of almost 7,700 men who played professional football in Scotland between 1900 and 1976 – finding that they were approximately three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease than the general population.

The study, carried out for the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association in 2019, discovered that there was a five-fold increase in Alzheimer’s disease among the former players.

Mr Marra said his debate at Holyrood could be “key in ensuring real action is taken on this issue”.

The Labour MSP demanded: “Action from the Scottish Government is needed now.

“Every month now, we hear of more high-profile cases of former footballers being diagnosed. Behind those high-profile cases will be dozens more unreported, where families are struggling on, doing their best for their loved ones and our heroes.

Labour MSP Michael Marra is to raise the issue with ministers at Holyrood, calling for “real action” on the issue.

“The science is clear – these injuries are clearly a result of the time that these men spent playing the game we all love. They have unknowingly sacrificed their health for our entertainment and it’s time that we supported them properly.”

Mr Marra continued: “The Scottish Government must recognise that these injuries are a form of industrial disease and allow these players to access the support they need, and deserve.”

His member’s debate on the issue comes a month after the former Scotland and Manchester United player Denis Law revealed he has been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

He is one of a long line of famous footballers to have developed the condition, with former Celtic captain Billy McNeill, who led the team to success in the European Cup, dying with the disease in 2019, while the death of former Dundee United player Frank Kopel from the disease sparked a campaign which led to the extension of free personal care.

Mr Marra is also urging the Scottish Government to fund research into the “practical and preventative support that is needed in the game”.

In addition, he wants ministers to establish a working group to consider the issues around brain injury and dementia, including in the grassroots game.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We remain in close contact on these issues with experts at the sportscotland Institute of Sport and the chief medical officer at the Scottish FA and will work with partners, including PFA Scotland, to carefully consider emerging evidence on former footballers developing dementia.

“We are funding a new body, Brain Health Scotland, for five years to embed brain health within clinical services and across public health. As part of this, we are exploring links between pilot brain health clinics from next year and the feasibility of additional national work focusing specifically on brain injury.

“A University of Glasgow study on lifelong health outcomes in former professional footballers, especially in relation to dementia was published in 2019. Further work is under way to establish why footballers may be at greater risk.

“We are aware of the request to establish a working group and we will respond directly as part of our ongoing consideration of this issue.”

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