Headway chief to give evidence to brain injury inquiry

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The Headway charity’s chief executive will give evidence to the newly-announced parliamentary inquiry into the link between sport and long-term brain injury.

Peter McCabe from the brain injury charity will appear before MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee on March 9.

“Increased scrutiny from this influential cross-party group of MPs is very much welcomed. We hope it will lead to greater pressure on all sports to do more to instil a cultural change in the way head injuries are perceived and treated,” McCabe said.

“It has taken many years of campaigning and Headway repeatedly speaking out in the national media to get to this stage.

“There has been progress in that time, but there still remains a lot to do in terms of elite-level sport consistently setting a good example for grassroots sport to follow. We look forward to sharing the charity’s views with the committee.”

Dr Adam White, a lecturer in sport and coaching sciences at Oxford Brookes University and the executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said: “It’s encouraging to see that parliament are looking into the issue of sport and brain injuries.

“Yet, the scope seems to be on the elite and professional game only, neglecting issues at school and youth level.

“The most effective mechanism for preventing neurodegeneration in athletes is by reducing exposure to repetitive head impacts. Delaying heading and tackling a few years will have a huge positive impact on kids’ brains.”

Daniel Parslow (right) in action for York
Daniel Parslow (right) was forced to retire as a result of a concussion (PA Wire)

“The fact the conversations are being had is a good start and hopefully there will be some clear guidance and protocols put in place to protect players who are playing now, but also youngsters who dream of playing football, that they can do the sport they love knowing they are safe.”

Parslow believes the new permanent concussion substitution trial in the Premier League and the FA Cup “misses the point”, and favours a longer off-field assessment period and the use of temporary subs.

“The decision is still being put in the hands of a medic who will be under extreme pressure to make a decision on the field of play, there’s no reason why they can’t implement this tomorrow,” he said.

Asked whether Government intervention was required in this area, or sports governing bodies would succeed alone, Parslow added: “Football hasn’t covered itself in glory. You only have to look at the rugby union legal case that’s happening now – their return-to-play protocols have been questioned.

“Going back to Jeff Astle’s case, 19 years have gone by and we’re only now seeing something happen and that’s wrong.

“Football can’t be applauded for that. Hopefully now, finally, with Government pressure and Government involvement it will be the turning point.”

Former West Brom and England striker Astle died of a brain injury caused by repeated heading of the ball, a coroner ruled in 2002.

Astle’s daughter Dawn is working with the Professional Footballers’ Association in an advisory capacity to help shape the neurodegenerative care provision for former members and their families.

Astle hopes the parliamentary inquiry will “leave no stone unturned”.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she told the PA news agency. “My family first talked about the FA and the PFA being asked some serious questions about seven years ago.

“Of course its about what needs to change, is there anything else that needs to be done, but we have to learn from lessons from the past.

“I would like to know who knew what, when, and what did they do about it.”

Parslow said he had shared his story with the PFA “in the hope that lessons can be learned” on concussion management.

New lobby group Progressive Rugby welcomed the parliamentary inquiry, having recently issued an urgent call-to-action in tackling the link between the game and head injuries.

Progressive Rugby is backed by the likes of former England international James Haskell and leading sport doctors as well as former Wales number eight Alix Popham, who is another ex-player suffering from probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

A statement read: “Progressive Rugby welcomes news today of the formation of the government’s DCMS Committee to consider links between contact sports and long-term brain injury.

Former Wales number eight Alix Popham during a training session
Former Wales number eight Alix Popham is another ex-player suffering from probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) David Davies/PA)

“We look forward to assisting the DCMS Committee in the understanding, management and mitigation of risk involved in rugby union at all levels of the game.

“Concerns over the potential harm of prolonged contact training, short return to play guidelines, the need to establish a protocol of health passports and develop methods of providing long-term player welfare are the focus of Progressive Rugby.

“As a multidisciplinary group, Progressive Rugby is in a unique position to provide the DCMS Committee with assistance, evidence and suggestions for future changes in Rugby Union to reduce the incidence and consequences of concussive and sub-concussive injuries.”

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