A leading brain expert Dr Bennet Omalu has said that heading a football should be banned for under 18s because of the risk of long term damage to the brain. He stressed that heading a football repeatedly is too dangerous for 12-14 year olds.
In the UK talking to the BBC, Dr Omalu called for ‘headers’ to be banned for younger players altogether and to be restricted in the professional game.
Here in Ireland, our CEO Barbara O’Connell has warned parents to ensure their children know how to head the ball safely and to know the signs of concussion.
Younger brains are still developing and more vulnerable to brain injury.
Our CEO Barbara O’Connell said: “We are very aware of the risk of concussion in soccer which can be the result of heading the ball, poor tackling or collisions with other players. Research in adults has shown that untreated and repeated concussion does lead to long term damage and even death in the case of second impact syndrome when a player who has been concussed is not taken off the pitch immediately.
“At Acquired Brain Injury Ireland we strongly advocate that children are taught to head the ball correctly and tackle safely and most of all to recognise any symptoms of concussion such as headaches, dizziness slurring of speech, disorientation. We cannot stress enough that players, coaches and parents are aware of the symptoms of concussion and the return to play guidelines. Players can make a full recovery if treated in the right way immediately following an incident.”
Back in 2015, we saw proactive action taken in the US with the introduction of a heading ban in football for under 10s. The US chose to err on the side of caution to protect children until further evidence is available. Earlier this year UEFA said it would consider a similar ban if more evidence emerges.
At Acquired Brain Injury Ireland we would like to see more research in this area.
Note: You may have heard of Dr Omalu from the movie ‘Concussion’ when he was played by US actor Will Smith. The movie documented Dr Omalu’s discovery of a serious brain condition (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) resulting from repeated head impacts in American Football.