The Football Association is continuing its research into the health effects of heading the ball after players’ chief Gordon Taylor suggested a ban on headers for players under the age of 10 should be considered.
There are long-standing concerns that the act of repeatedly heading footballs can detrimentally affect long-term brain function and a University of Stirling study published earlier this year identified an immediate, though short-term, impact on memory after routine heading practice.
Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said authorities should be open to the idea of limiting the exposure of under-10s to heading – a decision that has already been taken in the United States.
Taylor told The Daily Telegraph: “I think that has to be a serious consideration. It is not a knee-jerk reaction. It would be a considered reaction bearing in mind evidence that has been coming through from different sports and to a limited extent in football.
“There have been rule changes for youngsters about pitches they play on, about the numbers in the game, about whether or not girls should be involved with boys and up to what age. It is very much in line with that.
“We don’t want to put off the next generation but we need to be very mindful. The game needs to have a duty of care to all its participants.”
The FA first pledged to investigate the issue of heading and its health consequences in 2002 following the death of former England international Jeff Astle, who died at 59 and was found to have suffered from the neuro-degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The sport’s governing body is understood to take the matter extremely seriously but is eager not to act unilaterally or before the research is fully understood.
Instead, the FA is addressing the issue of head injuries in concert with a variety of interested parties, including not-for-profit interest groups and other sporting bodies including the Rugby Football Union.
An FA spokesperson told Press Association Sport: “The FA is committed to researching and examining all areas of head injuries in football, in particular around the long-term effects on players. We are currently assessing research projects in this area, in collaboration with the Drake Foundation and the PFA, and this will help us to fully understand the health benefits and any risks associated with playing football.”