The Football Association (FA) are to lead research into whether heading the ball increases the risk of developing brain illnesses such as dementia.
It was an iconic moment in British sporting history, and one that this year, will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. But for three members of the England 1966 World Cup winning squad, it’s a memory that they may soon struggle to recall.
Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson have all been diagnosed with dementia, and it’s reported that Jack Charlton is also experiencing severe memory problems.
This follows on from news of other famous footballers who have had dementia, including Jimmy Hill, Stan Bowles and at least four of Tottenham’s double-winning team of 1960-61 – Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Peter Baker and Ron Henry.
Now the FA’s medical chief, Dr Ian Beasley, is keen to discover if dementia is more common in ex-professional footballers.
‘We are taking some research questions to FIFA imminently,’ he said.
A story in last weekend’s Daily Mirror interviewed family members of Peters, Stiles and Wilson. All suspect years of heading heavy, leather footballs could be to blame for their illness.
‘The trouble is we just don’t know,’ Beasley added. ‘It’s a massive undertaking to try and decide whether there’s an association between having played professional football and cognitive decline.
‘We just don’t know. It’s always tempting to say ‘it must be’, but we’re not sure.’
A study carried out in 2013 by Newcastle University claimed that doing ‘headers’ in football was not as harmful as commonly thought, however it did state that further studies were needed.
Research into the effects that high impact contact sports can have on your risk of dementia are ongoing, with studies looking at rugby players and American footballers, too.
Today’s footballs are made of much lighter material, rather than the heavy leather that would have been used in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but experts have warned that this won’t necessarily reduce the risk.
Dr Michael Grey, a neuroscience expert at Birmingham University, said: ‘It doesn’t matter if the balls are lighter.
‘If the balls are more aerodynamic and the players are bigger and are kicking the ball harder, the velocity increases and the force of the impact stays the same, or is even greater.’
The Football Association (FA) are now calling on the world footballing body, FIFA, for more research into the possible link between football and an increased risk of dementia.
31.05.2016 – UPDATE:
News in today has said that the Football Association (FA) are to lead a British-based research programme into whether regularly heading the ball could increase the risk of developing brain illnesses such as dementia in later life.
This comes after the FA have decided that with the world footballing body, FIFA, distracted with other matters, they would press on with their own investigation.