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Football clubs warned to protect players from dementia – or face paying millions

Football clubs and sporting authorities risk facing multi-million-pound lawsuits if they fail to protect players from brain injuries caused by heading the ball, a leading lawyer has warned.

It comes on the first anniversary of the landmark FA-commissioned FIELD Study, which found footballers were three times more likely to die from dementia.

The FA has yet to take any steps to limit how often professionals head the ball, so far only banning under-12s from heading footballs in training.

Ipek Tugcu, a solicitor at Bolt Burden Kemp and a mentor at the brain injury charity, Headway, said: “I’m disappointed at how little has changed in the last year.

“The research is indisputable, linking repetitive head trauma to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease such as dementia.

"What are governing bodies waiting for?

“Nobody is suggesting that heading a ball should be banned. The main issue is header training, as players often do this for hours, day after day. Limiting that would make huge
strides in protecting player welfare.”

Hundreds of retired players have been diagnosed with dementia – prompting the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council to investigate whether it should be designated an industrial disease.

Last week a coroner ruled former Welsh international Alan Jarvis, 76, was killed by an industrial disease after developing Alzheimer’s as a result of years of heading balls.

Ms Tugcu said: “Identifying dementia as an industrial disease would be a huge step in formally recognising the risks of the sport and protecting players.

“It would force governing bodies and clubs to take the necessary steps to limit any risks or face legal action against them. I think things would have to change.”

She pointed to American Football, where the NFL agreed a £700million settlement for retired players with serious medical conditions linked to head trauma.

A University of Leeds study has revealed that the speed of a football has more effect on the damage it causes than its weight or the material it is made from, suggesting that modern footballers could be at even greater risk than those who played with old leather balls.

Jarvis was the second footballer whose death was recorded as an industrial disease. The first was former England international striker Jeff Astle, who died in 2002.

Both were found to be suffering CTE, otherwise known as boxer’s brain, caused by repeated blows to the head.

An inquest on Thursday heard Jarvis, who played for Everton and Hull City, headed balls every day for decades. His widow Dilys, 73, said: “I have no doubt his Alzheimer’s was brought on by head injuries.”

Former Chesterfield striker Ernie Moss, 71, suffers from dementia and is in a Derbyshire care home, which has barred his family from visiting due to the coronavirus.

His daughter Nikki Trueman, 45, said: “It is heartbreaking.”

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