The critics get silenced after Scottish FA decision on headers
The daggers were out this past season after the Gibraltar FA took the unprecedented step to ban
heading of the ball for under 12's. The decision, which was taken near the start of Gibraltar FA Technical Director Desi Curry's tenour proved to be a controversial decision but one based on the ongoing concerns
which had emerged across football over the links which were emerging between heading the ball, concussions and dementia at a later stage in life.
Critics were this past week silenced when it emerged that the Scottish FA was looking at the
possibility of implementing a similar ban. The news was received with some delight by those
who had supported the Gibraltar FA's decision, some indicating that the decision although
controversial was "likely to reduce the liabilities that football could face in the future," if the links
between dementia and heading of the ball were to be accepted across football.
The decision by Scotland, although hitting the headlines this past week dates back to October 24
when they first issued a response to a study conducted by The University of Stirling.
At the time the Scottish FA issued a statement saying:
"In light of the study issued by the University of Stirling in relation to the impact of heading a
football, the Scottish FA have issued the following statement:
Dr John A Maclean, Scotland National Team doctor and Medical Advisor to the Scottish FA: “The
Scottish FA remains committed to ensuring the health and well-being of all who play football in
Scotland, from recreational to professional players of all ages, both male and female.
“Together with other sporting governing bodies and the Scottish Government, the Scottish FA
launched the first national consensus guidelines for the management of concussion in grassroots
sport in 2015 and this group will review these guidelines following an international meeting of
experts later this year.
“In addition, we fully support the ‘Graduated Return to Play’ guidelines for all levels of the
game, emphasising the need for both cognitive and physical rest, especially in young players and
the need to be symptom-free before returning to activity.
“The Scottish FA have an ongoing educational programme for doctors and physiotherapists
working in sport and teach both an advanced pitch-care course and the National Sports First Aid
course to those working in sport – both of which include the recognition and management of
head injury in sport.
“As always, we respect the guidance received from national and international experts in this
area and will look at the current University of Stirling study in greater detail with our medical
The Scottish FA's position has, similar to the reaction in Gibraltar, received its fair share of critics
among which have been some professional players
Similarly to Gibraltar, their concerns date back to 2015 when in a communique published on
their official website they highlighted their commitment to player safety at youth level.
At the time in November 2015 the Scottish FA stated that it "reiterated its commitment to the
health and welfare of its youth players in light of recommendations made by the US soccer
federation on concussion in the game." This was a similar line taken by the Gibraltar FA when it
first implemented its ban on heading as it reacted to reports linking dementia to concussions in
football and heading of the ball.
The Scottish FA also indicated that in May 2015 Scotland became the first country to introduce a
set of standardised concussion guidelines that covers all sports. Stating that the Scottish FA
continued at the time "to adhere to the Graduated Return to Play protocol that enforces a rest
period for young players who suffer concussion on the field of play."
US soccer had suggested at the time that member clubs should ban heading for players aged 10
and under and limit the amount of heading practice for children between the ages of 11 and 13.
Acting upon the best medical advice available the Scottish FA also felt at the time had felt that
there was insufficient evidence at the limit heading in the youth game. A view which has since
changed following the study conducted in Scotland.
The Scottish FA is expected now to implement similar rules in under 12 football across all
categories which would parellel those already in place in Gibraltar.
Although there is no associated link between the Scottish FA decision and that made in Gibraltar,
it is known that Gibraltar's implementation of its youth rules have been the focus of interest
during international discussions on youth football development.
Gibraltar officials, since the introduction of the rules, having indicated that they had been
approached by other associations asking as to how things were progressing.
This past week's headlines have already seen a mood change across some sectors who were
critical of the rule implementation. The realisation that European football could start looking at
implementing similar regulations across the whole of football becoming more apparent as
studies continue to show the concerns over the impact of players in later years of heading the
ball and concussion.
The Scottish FA, in October 2019 also stated that it’s Governing body was to support a co-ordinated response from FIFA and UEFA to Scots-based research and discuss findings with professional and non-professional boards to review best practice guidelines
The Scottish FA Said it was ready to meet its counterparts at UEFA and FIFA to establish a global response from football in light of an historic study led by the University of Glasgow, which reveals the first major insights into lifelong health outcomes in former professional footballers.
This they said came about “after findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed:
Former professional footballers had a lower rate of mortality from heart disease and lung cancer than the general population and lived on average three and a quarter years longer;
They demonstrated a higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease;
Mortality with neurodegenerative disease did not differ significantly between goalkeepers and outfield players.
The research focused on comparisons on the causes of death within a sample of 7676 former Scottish male professional football players born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 matched individuals from the general population.
The FIELD study, commissioned by The English FA and Professional Footballers Association in England, was led by Scottish consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart, honorary clinical associate Professor at the University of Glasgow.”
Rod Petrie, Scottish FA President: “We welcome the findings of this important study – the most comprehensive one ever commissioned into neurodegenerative disease in former professional footballers anywhere in the world.
“It is important to outline that this is only the start in truly understanding the relationship. Further research is needed to determine what exactly causes the increased rates of dementia and while this will naturally involve the wider scientific community it is important that world football takes a lead on this to ensure the appropriate action to such a complex matter.”
Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA Chief Executive: “As someone who played senior football for almost 20 years I profoundly understand the importance of this research and, equally, how football responds to it.
“The game has changed immeasurably during the timeline examined by the researchers and we need to understand what exactly causes the increased rates of dementia: whether through concussion or concussion management, heading of the football, style of play, design and composition of footballs, or other factors. None the less, we must be cognisant of the findings and look where possible to reduce any risk.
“While the research is based purely on the professional game and will be discussed at the Professional Game Board, through the Non-professional Game Board we will also consider any implications for the grassroots game, notwithstanding the report states that its observations cannot be applied directly to the recreational game.
“We are also fortunate to have world-class procedures in Scotland that have been adopted across Europe but in light of these findings we must remain responsive.”
Dr John MacLean, Scottish FA Medical Consultant and co-author of the research: “It is important to point out that the FIELD study has also confirmed the benefits of physical activity on other aspects of lifestyle, particularly the reduction in heart disease and some cancers.
“Scottish football has in many ways taken a lead on the subject of head injury and trauma in sport. We are fortunate to have among the best health data anywhere in the world, for which the Scottish Government should rightly be acknowledged.
“Scotland was also the first country in the world to produce concussion guidelines: a joint venture by the Scottish FA, Scottish Rugby, sportscotland and the Scottish Government.
“We also have one of the best medical education programmes in sport, including the Advanced Pitchcare course, designed for doctors and physiotherapists working in football to deal with issues such as sudden cardiac arrest, major trauma and concussion on the pitch, and its immediate and long term management.
"This course has been recognised by UEFA as their only accepted course, with the Scottish tutors teaching to all 55 National Associations over the last 10 years.”
Read the findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed: