Scotland is set to ban children heading balls within weeks, due to fears over the links between football and dementia.
The Scottish Football Association said on Thursday it was finalising its proposals to become the first European country to impose such restrictions.
Here’s everything you need to know about the ban and what it means for the rest of the UK.
What are the proposals?
The Scottish FA is proposing a ban on children under the age of 12 heading footballs, following a report that found a link between playing football and dementia.
The report, released by the University of Glasgow in October 2019, found that former players are three and a half times more likely to die of degenerative brain disease.
The governing body is expected to announce the ban later this month, which would make Scotland the first European country to do so.
A similar ban has already been in place in the United States since 2015.
Is there a clear link between heading balls and dementia?
The Glasgow University report links dementia to repeated impact to the skull, which football players suffer from heading the ball over the course of their careers.
There is still no concrete evidence linking heading the ball to the disease, but many believe there is sufficient reason to begin taking measures to better protect players.
The Scottish men’s national team doctor John MacLean had previously expressed scepticism about the need for such a ban.
In 2015, he stated: “At the moment, the recommendations from the experts is that there is insufficient evidence to link recurrent heading of the ball with later brain damage.”
However, in light of the more recent study which MacLean helped to conduct, he told the BBC: “We can’t wait on the evidence one way or another” and “sensible, pragmatic steps” must be taken.
Former Celtic striker John Hartson, known for his bruising style and heading ability, has praised the new policy, highlighting the importance of protecting players.
At what age is it safe to head a ball?
The exact age at which heading should be permitted in Scotland if a ban is in place remains a point of contention amongst experts.
The brain injury association Headway remains cautious of the proposal, fearing it implies that 13- or 14-year-olds can head the ball without fear of harm, which is not necessarily true.
In the US, where a ban on children heading balls has been in place since 2015, children are permitted to start heading balls at the age of 10.
Will the ban put young Scottish players at a disadvantage?
There are some concerns that such a ban could be detrimental to the development of young players.
Heading remains an important part of the game, especially in the British game which remains highly physical, so Scottish players could fall behind if they don’t practice the skill at all from a young age.
The former manager of the men’s national side Gordon Strachan had previously pointed to the Scots’ inability to compete in the air as a major source of their poor results in recent years, although he focused more upon the players’ size than their heading abilities.
For those concerned that this move will hinder Scotland’s progress as a footballing nation by putting young players at a disadvantage, SFA Chief Executive Gordon Smith pointed out that heading can still be safely taught from a young age using lighter, plastic footballs.
When will the ban come into effect?
There is no set date for the ban to be put in place as of yet.
The SFA is still finalising the details of its proposals and its various stakeholders still need to sign up to the plan.
However, it is now widely expected that the ban will be put into effect by the end of January.
Will other parts of the UK ban heading balls?
Scotland’s new policy will make it the first European nation to ban kids from heading the ball, although it is highly possible that others will now follow suit.
The English Premier League are known to have studied the report and have set up a task force to determine what steps they will take next.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe confirmed last year confirmed that his side have already implemented a heading ban for their younger academy players.
Given that the EPL’s standing within the footballing world, is seems likely that a ban their would create a ripple effect across the continent.