UK & World News
Heading Footballs 'Not Safe For Children'
One of Britain's leading neuroscientists has said it may not be safe for children to head footballs - and that the impact of repetitive blows is still unknown for professional players.
Dr Michael Grey, reader in Motor Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham's School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, told Sky News: "In my opinion, and I think I can say in the opinion of many of the colleagues with whom I work, it's probably not safe for children to be heading the ball.
"The reason for that is two-fold. First, the neck muscles aren't yet developed for the size of the children's head at that age.
"The other reason is that their brains are still developing so they're still in a very vulnerable period for taking a blow to the head, and I should say these concussive events, we don't yet know if repetitive injury such as this is safe for professionals either."
New Football Association (FA) guidelines on concussion and head injuries say it has to be the team doctor who makes the call on whether a player can carry on.
But the rules, published last week, have no specific guidance when it comes to children and heading the ball.
The rules have angered the family of Jeff Astle, the West Bromwich Albion star who died in 2002.
The 59-year-old's brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), was clearly linked to repeatedly heading the ball throughout his career.
A pathologist compared his brain to that of a boxer.
Dawn Astle, Jeff's daughter, said: "We know what killed dad, the coroner's court said it was industrial disease: heading footballs killed dad and the Football Association just don't acknowledge it.
"Twelve-and-a-half years on, they still haven't acknowledged what killed him.
"We have real worries, not just for current footballers, and of course not just professionals - we're talking about amateurs as well - but about football's future, about the children in the game.
"They need to know the risks, then they can make informed choices."
The Astle family and one of the world's leading neurosurgeons, Dr Willie Stewart, are meeting FA representatives including chairman Greg Dyke to persuade them of their case.
At grassroots level, more knowledge is always welcome.
Mark Gould, a coach who runs Sport4Kids, said: "There's very little really on coaching heading.
"The traditions that have persevered through the generations are; use your forehead, making sure that you keep your eyes on the ball, and it's common sense really - keep your eyes closed.
"But there's no explicit guidelines given, not at the moment. Any guidance the FA can give is going to be a bonus."