Recent studies and research have suggested a link between heading a football repeatedly and neurological disorders such as dementia and brain injury. Should heading the ball be removed from the game of football?
There have been a few high profile former professional footballers, such as Jack and Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles recently confirmed to have dementia and it is reported that 7 of the Burnley FC team who won the First Division in the 1960’s have been diagnosed with dementia. Research is on-going and a causal link between heading the ball and dementia is not yet proven.
In all likelihood, it is not the heading of the ball during competitive matches that is the main problem but the repetitive practising of heading the ball in training. Some players report repeatedly heading a ball for half an hour in each training session.
There is also the risk of another player contesting the ball and a resulting clash of heads. This is frequently a reason to stop play so that head injury protocols can be observed.
If heading the ball was banned would there be fewer goals scored? Only 15-20% of goals are scored with the head, often from corner kicks and off the head of the tallest player in the penalty box. Without headers, would the corner kick evolve into something more like a free kick with less reliance on the tall defenders? Maybe the more intricate skills of smaller players would be employed providing arguably better entertainment for the fans.
The F.A. have already taken steps to prevent Under 11s from practising heading the ball and it is only permitted in a match scenario.
Is it likely that Football will ban the heading of the ball? Changes to the under 11 game are likely to filter through to all over time resulting in players heading the ball less and more control of the ball with their chest or feet instead. This could impact millions of people, affecting the professional game and both children and adults playing amateur football.
Research in to the causal link is continuing and if a link is established the football authorities would need time to prepare guidelines and implement any ban. Whilst some football purists would need persuading of the wisdom of any such ban, the consequences of ignoring it could be costly for those running football teams in terms of their negligence in protecting their players from harm. Whether a link is established and a ban on heading the ball is introduced, the wellbeing of players in football is the goal.