Uefa to follow Scotland’s lead in limiting amount of heading a ball by youngsters

Restraints aimed at reducing risk of dementia in ex players to be rolled out across Europe
A young boy heads a ball during practice, the SFA have taken steps to restrict the amount of heading allowed by young players. Picture: Getty.A young boy heads a ball during practice, the SFA have taken steps to restrict the amount of heading allowed by young players. Picture: Getty.
A young boy heads a ball during practice, the SFA have taken steps to restrict the amount of heading allowed by young players. Picture: Getty.

Uefa are ready to back Scottish football’s stance on limiting youngsters heading the ball, as they strive to minimise the risk of dementia in footballers.

Responding to a University of Glasgow study that shows that footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than others of a similar age from the general population, the Scottish FA, along with their counterparts in England and Northern Ireland, have already taken steps to ban kids under 12 from heading the ball in training.

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They also limited the amount of heading practice permitted for all players aged up to 18.

Those guidelines are now set to be supported by Uefa at their Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday and quickly wheeled out across Europe.

The recommendations fall short of a formal ban but the authorities are hoping that, as has been the case in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland since February this year, coaches will want to work towards reducing the potential long-term health consequences for players.

In recent years several families of former footballers have come forward to raise awareness of the risks.

Analysis of former England player Jeff Astle’s brain revealed he had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease more often seen in boxers. The neurosurgeon who performed the examination, Dr Willie Stewart, who is a professor at the University of Glasgow, concluded that repeated heading of the ball was the cause.

Dundee United defender Frank Kopel, who was a member of Manchester United’s European Cup-winning squad in 1968, before making his mark at Tannadice, was only 59 when he was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and died aged 65 in 2014.

The families of former Scotland manager Ally MacLeod, and ex Hibernian and Leicester player John Ogilvie have also blamed years of heading footballs for their loved ones’ brain disease.

The wife of Celtic’s European Cup-winning captain Billy McNeill launched a charity in his name to help ex-footballers with dementia, after the legend spent the final nine years of his life with Alzheimer’s.

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With ex-footballers three and a half times more likely to die from brain disease, and five times more susceptible to forms of dementia, the steps taken by the UK football associations now look to be wheeled out across the continent. Uefa has also set up a working group to look into the role that heading plays in former players developing degenerative brain diseases.

In Scotland, coaches are advised to refrain from any heading training for under-12s. After that heading is deemed a low priority, the SFA making it clear that they would prefer it not to be introduced, but outlining restrictions of one session per month with lightweight balls and no more than five headers per session if it is.

At 13, the sessions should be no more than one per week, with the advice not to over-inflate the footballs, and the only change for 14s and 15s is the number of headers per player can double to ten per session.

By the time players are 16 and 17 the heading sessions can become more varied but the SFA advise they are still restricted to one per week and ask coaches to “encourage a style of play that limits the number of longer, higher passes in games”.

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