Call for concussion substitutes in football in wake of dementia report

FA chairman Greg Clarke is lobbying Fifa and Uefa.  Picture: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
FA chairman Greg Clarke is lobbying Fifa and Uefa. Picture: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
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Greg Clarke, the Football Association chairman, hopes concussion substitutes are introduced to the game “as quickly as possible” in the wake of a report which found a higher incidence of neurodegenerative disease among former footballers than in the general population.

The Scottish-led study, which was commissioned by the FA and the Professional Footballers’ Association in November 2017, was published on Monday and was led by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart of Glasgow University. Clarke will present the findings of the Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk (FIELD) study to the Fifa Council in Shanghai this week, which he will attend in his capacity as a vice-president of the world governing body.

This phase of the report has not looked into why the incidence of these conditions is higher among footballers than the control group, but Clarke said that the game needed to understand whether repeated heading of the ball, or a failure to treat concussion properly, were contributory factors.

“One of the things we’re pushing on, and I’ve spoken to Fifa and Uefa about this, is to introduce concussion substitutes as quickly as possible,” he told the Digital Culture Media and Sport committee.

“If anyone has a head injury you don’t just want to have a doctor looking at them quickly and saying ‘you’re OK’ or ‘you’re not OK’ – you can send someone else on to play while that player is assessed to make sure we move away from time pressure on doctors to make really important health 
decisions.”

Football’s lawmaking body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), will discuss concussion at the meeting of its football and technical advisory panels in Zurich today.

It is expected there will be a discussion on the potential use of temporary concussion substitutes in the event of head injuries.

The study assessed the medical records of 7,676 men who played professional football in Scotland and were born between 1900 and 1976. Their records were matched against more than 23,000 individuals from the general population.

It found that there was a five-fold risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a four-fold increase in motor neurone disease and a two-fold increase in Parkinson’s disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls.

Former Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea forward Chris Sutton, whose father Mike suffers from dementia, criticised the PFA for its handling of the issue.

Sutton said on Twitter: “If Gordon Taylor had anything about him he would apologise to all his union members and their families who he has failed… his own members dying in the most horrible and humiliating way… he failed my dad and hundreds more.”