Campaigners welcome SFA’s move to ban children from heading balls

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Campaigners have welcomed the Scottish Football Association’s move towards a ban on heading in the under-12s game.

The SFA is reported to be close to imposing such a ban in training, although the timescale for introducing it is unclear.

The United States has had a similar ban in place since 2015 but the SFA’s move would make Scotland the first European country to impose such a restriction.

It follows the publication of a study by the University of Glasgow last year which found footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disease than age-matched non-players.

The SFA said it would finalise the proposals “in early course”.

It is understood there is consensus between the SFA board, the professional and non-professional game boards and medical representatives to recommend such a ban.

It could be in place for the grassroots season, which runs from March to November.

Campaigner Dawn Astle welcomed the move.

Her father, former West Brom and England striker Jeff Astle, died aged 59 in 2002 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of dementia caused by brain injury.

The coroner ruled his death had been caused by the repeated trauma of heading the ball, describing it as an “industrial disease”.

Ms Astle said: “We’re very pleased, we applaud them for trying to put things in place to reduce the risk and not hanging on and hanging on and keep saying ‘more research, more research’.”

Giffnock Soccer Centre, one of Scotland’s largest youth football clubs, also welcomed the news.

The club announced a policy last October to remove the heading of footballs across its smaller-side squads up to and including the seven-a-side teams.

Its chairman Craig Inglis said: “Although some of the ongoing scientific studies are yet to report, there is a growing consensus among the medical community that heading the football contributes towards players developing dementia and other brain conditions later in life.

“We have a responsibility to our players and would rather give families clear direction on this issue.

“We welcome news of a ban. Our football development work focuses on building skills with the feet ‘on the deck’, and this is what we will be focusing on.”

Steven Gerrard
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard believes heading practice still has a place in grassroots football (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard agrees work must continue to establish whether there is a link between playing the game and dementia, but he said he believes heading practice still has a place in grassroots football.

He said: “I used to love heading balls, probably from the age of four.

“So I wouldn’t take it away from them completely because they will be watching their heroes every day on the TV, heading and scoring goals.

“But you can certainly do things; you can help them by making the balls smaller or lighter, or doing heading in a different way, without using the heavy-case balls.”

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