FIFPro chief refuses to back plans to restrict heading in training

World players’ union FIFPro comes under fire after chief medical officer REFUSES to back plans to restrict the amount of heading in training in bid to reduce the risk of dementia

  • England is set to be the first to introduce restrictions in the professional game
  • FA, Premier League and PFA working on guidelines to limit heading in training
  • FIFPro chief medical officer Gouttebarge says there is a lack of ‘concrete data’
  • Campaigner Dawn Astle and neuroscientist Dr Michael Grey criticised his stance

The world players’ union has come under fire for refusing to back limits on heading in training.

England is set to be the first country to introduce restrictions in the professional game with the FA, Premier League and PFA working together on guidelines in a bid to reduce the risk of dementia.

But FIFPro chief medical officer Dr Vincent Gouttebarge says he cannot support the plans because of a lack of ‘concrete data’ on what any limit on heading should be – a stance which has been criticised by campaigner Dawn Astle and neuroscientist Dr Michael Grey.

England is set to be the first country to introduce restrictions in the professional game 

Gouttebarge said: ‘I know that in the UK there is this call to reduce heading exposure in training.

‘The UK media are suddenly epidemiologists because they are running the strategic agenda in the UK – this is what it looks like at least.

‘Reducing heading in practice is a very popular thing to say.

‘But from a scientific point of view, I am missing a lot of information before having a clear position that we need to reduce heading in professional football.

‘First, we do not know a lot about heading exposure in professional football in games and we know nothing about it in training.

‘Second, what is the threshold that is safe or where the risk is acceptable? Who is going to monitor the number of heading?

‘If you don’t know how much it has to decrease by, then you don’t give any tools to the footballer to know what they have to do in training.

Football needs more ‘robust’ evidence linking heading and dementia before elite clubs can impose training restrictions, the medical chief of the world players’ union has claimed

‘If we know, for example, that a player is allowed to head the ball 500 times every season for a maximum 10 years, now that could provide some clear guidance.

‘But we do not have this kind of concrete data. There needs to be a number because what is too often? These kinds of answers we do not have yet.’

Gouttebarge was speaking on a concussion in football webinar hosted by Morgan Sports Law, where he was joined by Astle and Grey.

Astle, whose dad Jeff’s death was found to be caused by heading footballs, hit back and said: ‘So do we not do anything then?

‘Do we just leave them to carry on doing what they’re doing and then in another 20 years have another study and find out footballers are still three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases?

‘Whether people like it or not, heading is the problem, heading is causing players to die. And we have to do something about it.’

Gouttebarge then risked more anger from Astle when he replied: ‘From a scientific point of view, it is difficult to mix it with an emotional and rationale perspective.

‘I don’t hear a lot of people talking about osteoarthritis, which is an occupational disease that is more prevalent than neurogenetic disease.’

Dr Grey, who is testing footballers for early signs of dementia as part of his SCORES project, disagreed with Gouttebarge and said heading in training should be restricted right away.

He added: ‘It’s important that we start somewhere. I agree we don’t have the scientific data to say where the threshold should be.

‘But I absolutely think we need to put in place some guidelines. Maybe those guidelines are wrong and as we get further evidence we change them.

‘But I think what we’re doing now, where it’s just a free for all, I don’t think that’s the way forward.’ 

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