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The Drake Foundation “cautiously optimistic” following football heading limitations guidance

PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY THE DRAKE FOUNDATION

LONDON, July 28, 2021 – The Drake Foundation is “cautiously optimistic” following an announcement today by football’s governing bodies to limit repeated heading in training to reduce the risk of brain injury.

The Football Association, Premier League, English Football League, Professional Footballers’ Association and League Managers Association have issued recommendations to address fears that repeated heading may lead to dementia.

Heading guidance for adult amateur football is that practice is limited to 10 headers per session, and undertaken only one session per week.

For professional football, it will be recommended that a maximum of 10 higher force headers are carried out in any training week. Professional clubs are to be encouraged to ensure players have adequate time after matches to recover from heading and will be given guidance on how to practise heading with lower force.

Foundation founder James Drake said: “We’re pleased to see the new guidelines for heading exposure in English football announced today and are cautiously optimistic that they will have a positive impact on the long-term brain health of footballers.

“However, we remain concerned about the effect of repetitive low-impact heading – the guidance for the professional game focuses on minimising ‘high force’ heading, but we’d like to see further precautionary action to minimise heading overall while we continue to build the evidence base in this area.

“Given the evidence that we have already on brain health in football, it’s incredibly important that a precautionary approach is taken when it comes to players’ exposure to head impacts.

“It’s especially encouraging to see that these guidelines are not limited to the elite game but carry through across all levels of the game.

“As we learn more, we hope to see further evidence-led safety protocols put in place. The Drake Foundation’s HEADING study is currently working with retired professional footballers to examine the link between heading the ball and later brain health, which will give us further insight on this critical issue.”

The Drake Foundation has a long history of supporting research in football.

The Drake Football Study was launched in 2019 and is measuring the mental and physical health of professional footballers over time with support from the World Players’ Union (FIFPRO), PFA and other partners across Europe.

This study – the first of its kind – will provide new insights into players’ health across their careers and into retirement. This information could ultimately enable health professionals to develop preventative and curative measures for future generations of players, as well as wider society.

Additionally, the HEADING Study is working with retired footballers to uncover associations between a history of heading the ball or concussion and neurodegenerative disease.

The Drake Football Concussion Study, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, is assessing Premier League footballers in a ground-breaking concussion study.

This Study includes the collection of saliva and urine samples from Premier League football players over several seasons, through to the 2023/24 season, to assess whether the brain has suffered injury using the microRNA-based Birmingham Concussion Test.

In the future, this test has the potential to assist in return-to-play decisions and could be used across sports, from grassroots to professional, in addition to military and other frontline settings.

 

ABOUT THE DRAKE FOUNDATION

The Drake Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation committed to understanding and improving the health and welfare of people impacted by head injuries, including sports players and IPV (intimate partner violence) survivors, through scientific research and collaboration.

Founded in 2014 by James Drake, the Foundation has since invested more than £2.2 million into research funding and open access resources.

The majority of this funding to date has gone into research into sport-related head injuries and long-term health outcomes, with the objective of making sport safer and providing valuable insights into the processes underlying neurogenerative diseases, such as dementia. In 2021, the Foundation expanded its portfolio to include research into brain injury from IPV.

Amongst the projects that The Drake Foundation funds are the HEADING study, which is investigating the link between neurogenerative disease and a professional football career, and the BRAIN study, working with retired rugby players to understand the association between a history of concussion and neurogenerative disease.

For more information on The Drake Foundation’s sports projects, please visit: https://www.drakefoundation.org/our-projects/