Neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart has told MPs that football’s response to head injuries is a ‘shambles’.
Dr Stewart, whose ground-breaking research uncovered a harrowing link between football and brain disease, was giving evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into concussion and sport.
The academic from the University of Glasgow is a leading campaigner on the need to protect players from the risk of concussion and brain disease.
Doctor who revealed link between football and brain disease has given evidence to an inquiry
His work, called the FIELD study, found former players were 3.5 times more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases than the general public.
And now he has spelled out to MPs the risks players face but also called out the football authorities for not doing enough.
He told MPs that the introduction of permanent concussion substitutes this year, to deal with on-field concussion was a ‘shambles’, arguing that giving medics more access to players and the chance to assess them for 10 minutes away from the game, like in rugby, would be better.
‘Medics can’t go onto the pitch until they are invited to,’ said Dr Stewart. ‘The on-field assessment until recently has been incredibly complex.
Dr Willie Stewart says football needs tointroduce temporary substitutes to assess injuries
‘Sometimes it just requires a one-to-one for a few minutes in a quiet environment. It needs time and immediate assessment.
‘What football has done is to introduce what it has at the moment. They have given medics no more time to assess a player or take a player off temporarily. None of the medical side has improved.
‘The challenges have been to identify a player with a brain injury and they have not given [the medics] any more tools to do that.
Rugby has been identified as a sport that has made great progress in identifying head injuries
Ex Manchester United defender Gordon McQueen is one of the players affected by dementia
‘The poor medics have no more time, opportunity or tools to assess players with complex brain injury. [Football head subs] have not improved things for those with brain injury, it has taken care of a perceived tactical advantage.’
Football’s rulemakers decided to introduce permanent concussion substitutes, not temporary ones.
The reasons for the move, given by the International Football Association Board, were to:
- prevent a player sustaining another concussion during the match as multiple head-injury incidents can have very serious consequences
- send a strong message that, if in doubt, the player is withdrawn but there is no numerical or tactical disadvantage by prioritising the player’s welfare
- reduce the pressure on medical personnel to make a quick assessment
And he added: ‘What football has introduced is a shambles. Rugby has made great developments in understanding how you can assess and identify players with brain injury. That should be the model. That is where other sports should start from.’
Football’s lawmaking body, the International Football Association Board, agreed in December to trial permanent concussion substitutes at ‘all levels of the game’ from January this year.
The move came after a sickening clash of heads between Arsenal’s David Luiz and Raul Jimenez, which left the Wolves man with a fractured skull. The Brazilian Luiz played on for the rest of the first half — a move that received criticism.
Dr Stewart was asked by MPs if the link between playing football and neurodegenerative disease had been firmly established.
‘The one common factor is head injury,’ he said. ‘To prove it beyond reasonable doubt is virtually impossible. The exposure [to damage] is in the 20s and the outcome is 30 to 40 years later. The gap is so long.’
But the academic added: ‘On a balance of probabilities, I think we are there.
‘We have more than enough evidence that the people we are seeing these pathologies in – the only common factor in there is brain injury.’
Dr Stewart played a key role in Sportsmail’s campaign calling on football to finally tackle its dementia scandal, a drive which has already secured considerable change.
The MPs on the Department of Culture Media and Sport Committee were hearing scientific evidence Dr Stewart, as well as Professor Craig Ritchie, a neurodegenerative disease specialist and the heads of charities, including the Alzheimer’s Society and Headway.
The committee hearing came just hours after the family of Gordon McQueen, the former Leeds, Manchester United and Scotland defender, opened up on his battle with dementia.
MP Julian Knight chaired today’s parliamentary inquiry into brain injury and sport
His daughter, Sky Sports News presenter Hayley McQueen, said she still can’t believe how playing football has so heavily impacted his health.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, she said: ‘Everyone’s dad is their hero. I didn’t realise he was other people’s hero as well.
‘I don’t think I really understood what he did until I was eight or nine. There have been moments where I’ve thought: “I can’t believe the thing that gave him so much love has now so cruelly taken a lot away from us”.
Sky Sports News presenter Hayley McQueen has opened up on her heartbreak following her father’s, dementia diagnosis
She spoke to BBC Breakfast on the day a DCMS inquiry will begin to investigate links between sport and brain injury
‘He started to ask: “When am I going to get this sorted? When is someone going to fix my head?” We were kind of hoping it wouldn’t be dementia but I think we all knew it probably was.
A second session, set to be held later this month, will hear from governing bodies including the Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association.
At that meeting, the outgoing chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association will be grilled by MPs, along with officials from the Football Association. Representatives from a number of other sports and players’ bodies, including rugby, are expected to appear as well.
Outgoing PFA chief Gordon Taylor has been criticised for failing to handle the issue adequately
Sportsmail’s dementia campaign was launched last November and has received backing from former footballers, as well as MPs
The post Football’s response to head injuries is a ‘shambles’ a leading brain doctor has told MPs appeared first on 247 News Around The World.