England's football authorities on Thursday invited applications
for independent research into whether playing the sport heightens
the risk of degenerative brain disease in later life.
It follows a campaign by the family of former West Bromwich
Albion striker Jeff Astle, whose 2002 death from chronic
traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was linked to repeatedly heading
heavy leather footballs.
The Football Association and players' union the Professional
Footballers' Association made the call for research following 18
months of consultation and analysis.
"This is a crucial issue for the FA and one that we feel
passionately about addressing," the FA's head of medicine,
Charlotte Cowie, said in a statement.
"Dementia is a debilitating disease, which places extraordinary
emotional and physical burdens on both sufferers and those close
"Player welfare is paramount and it is increasingly important
that the football authorities investigate further whether there
are any potential risks associated with heading the ball, as this
is a unique feature of our game."
The focus of the independent study will be the question: "Is the
incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease more common in
ex-professional footballers than in the normal population?"
The FA and PFA will jointly fund the project. The closing date
for the submission of research proposals is May this year.
Research into links between football and brain damage in later
life is thin on the ground.
A recent British study published in the journal Acta
Neuropathologica found the brains of four out of six former
players with dementia showed signs of CTE, far in excess of the
average rate of 12 percent.
World governing body FIFA says there is no conclusive proof that
heading a ball or other sub-concussive impacts increase the risk
of brain disease.