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Old 20th February 2017, 06:26   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Posts: 1,537
Default Dementia – The Shame of the PFA and FA

This morning, Wednesday 15 February 2017, Gordon Taylor and the Professional Footballer’s Association issued the following media statement;

“The Professional Footballers’ Association welcomes the research from the University College London. The safety and wellbeing of our members both past and present is of paramount importance and we are fully committed in trying to identify if footballers are suffering disproportionately with the onset of dementia.The PFA is part of an Expert Concussion Panel formed in 2015, which led to new concussion protocols being introduced into the game.

In partnership with The Football Association we will fund additional independent research aimed at providing comprehensive and medically robust findings, investigating a potential causal link between the repeated heading of the ball and player-on-player collisions, and increased incidents of degenerative brain disease in later life.”

I find this an astounding statement for them to make – especially the paragraph stating ‘The safety and wellbeing of our members both past and present is of paramount importance and we are fully committed in trying to identify if footballers are suffering disproportionately with the onset of dementia.’

Why am I being critical?

As far back as 21 September 1998, when the BBC published an article quoting a study made in the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, which stated that they had found that soccer players suffer the same number of concussions as American footballers, the FA and PFA have been aware that there could be, or was, a definitive link between heading a football, and particularly the old leather type ‘casey’ football, and dementia.

Fifty-three professional Dutch footballers were monitored in that study, and 45% of them were found to have some form of brain injury.

"We compared the professional soccer players with swimmers and athletes," said Dr Eric Matser, one of the research authors.
"Those soccer players showed memory and visual perception impairments, and these impairments were caused by the number of concussions sustained and the number of headers."

The average player made 800 headers in a season, although some of the back players were making more than 2,000.

Dr Matser said professional footballers should have annual neurological check-ups to protect them from getting chronic traumatic brain injury.

The FA’s response to that article left a lot to be desired. Dr Nick Tindall, the medical officer from the Football Association's School of Excellence at that time, stated that he was still not convinced that a "definite causal link had been established between heading the football and brain damage. I think it needs more work before we should stop players heading the ball in the game."

He also stated that ‘the Association is looking at proposals to carry out its own study on young players to determine the health impact of many aspects of the game.”

In the Independent newspaper dated 21 September 1998, it states that the PFA’s research was being conducted with younger players who were being monitored from the start of their playing careers and would go on for the next 10/15 years. Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the PFA, is also quoted as saying, “for the last year or so we have been made aware of this problem and it's one of the projects we are undertaking with the FA medical committee. Now that we have the funds, we have made preparations for our own research. We are taking youngsters coming into the game and monitoring them throughout their careers."

Remember, these quotes go back well over 18 years! Both the FA, and the PFA have been aware of the problem of CTE. But what have they done since then, except bury their heads in the sand, and try and sweep the subject under the carpet. Every time in these intervening years that the subject of dementia and its effect on footballers has come up, they have been quick to promise funding research, making promises, and then, doing absolutely nothing.

The joint research promised back in 1998 developed into nothing more than a fiasco, because it was never really monitored properly, was poorly coordinated, and eventually most players involved in the project just disappeared from the game. My questions about this is are;

Who was the person(s) or organization responsible for overseeing this project?
Who was responsible for carrying the work out?
How much funding was budgeted to the project?
Why was the project allowed disappear with no findings ever published?

In April 2014, both the FA, and PFA, appeared to be so confused over the subject!
An FA source said the study had not been completed because the players involved had not gone on to play professionally. But then Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive, said: '

'There were some difficulties in keeping track of the individuals. But it was completed although it hasn't been published. This is still very much on the agenda and something we really want to continue. We have had approaches from two hospitals with a view to continuing the studies.'

Who was responsible for writing up the study, where is the report and its findings, and why did the senior bodies in the game allow this farce to happen?

If the study was still very much on the agenda and something which the PFA really wanted to continue – then why didn’t they? And why has it taken almost 15 years for them to be forced into any kind of meaningful action?

In 2014, Dawn Astle, the widow of former West Bromwich Albion and England centre-forward, Jeff Astle, met with representatives of the FA, and was told that they would be forwarding detailed research questions to Fifa. Two years later, she became enraged when she read Dr Ian Beasley, the FA’s outgoing head of medical services, saying that it would “imminently” put questions to Fifa.

She contacted FA chairman Greg Dyke, and PFA deputy chief executive John Bramhall, and let them know that she felt that the lack of respect for those who had died, and their families, saw them stripped of all dignity, and was beyond belief.

Dyke and the PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, contacted Dawn Astle and a meeting was arranged with Charlotte Cowie, the FA’s head of performance medicine. Incredibly, Gordon Taylor was reported as saying that the PFA had been approached by “quite a number” of former professionals, including “some relatively young ex-players”, with symptoms of cognitive decline. He went on to say that he shared the frustration, and that the subject needed addressing and was of the opinion there was a momentum gathering but it was not happening quickly enough and that he would be disappointed if, by the end of year, the research had not started.

Really? Since 1998, he has been making similar soundings every time the subject of dementia has been broached – and how much further forward were we up until the turn of 2017?

The FA spokesman said that it was working extensively to better understand head injuries and pointed to its new 2016 guidelines for on-field concussion. As well as working with the PFA and saying it was “committed” to supporting research into the problem, the FA believed that “a consolidated approach” was also needed globally, and if the FA acted alone, the findings would be less powerful and more likely to result in vague conclusions.
Sending questions to Fifa is really going to solve the problem, especially when there seems no urgency from the FA authorities at all!

Dr Willie Stewart, the neuropathologist who examined Jeff Astle’s brain and found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), who is also part of the FA’s panel on concussion, is also adamant that individual national bodies can initiate immediate independent research.
‘Surely the FA, the Scottish FA, the Welsh FA, the Premier League and all these organisations must have some duty of care to players. Why does Fifa have to tell our UK sports organisations to do what I would have thought is morally right? It’s ridiculous. It seems that there has been a lot of shuffling around and not much movement forwards.
We don’t have the conclusive evidence so it is easy to say these players would have got it anyway. But I think when you start to look at the proportion, and the 1966 team, it is frightening. That’s just not an incidence rate that one would expect in the normal population. I am shocked at Fifa, the FA and the PFA. I just do not understand why they have not invested in independent research.”

There is no doubt in my opinion that the FA and PFA are culpable of being neglectful. Since 1998, many studies have been carried out, almost all of them finding that there could, or that there is more than a likely, a link to heading the old football, and the commencement and on-set of dementia.

In May 2014, Labour MP and Shadow Cabinet Minister Chris Bryant claimed sport's authorities were in danger of being judged 'criminally negligent' in their attitude to head injuries. One of the world's leading neurologists blamed sport's 'secretive culture' for a 'shocking' failure to investigate links between dementia and head trauma. The chairman of a former player's association said:

'We've known about this problem for years but the governing bodies ignore our letters.'

Richard Wickson, the chairman of Reading Football Club's former players' association, is convinced there is a problem’

‘Clearly it is very difficult to say Alzheimer's or any brain disorder is directly attributable to football,' he said. 'But we do seem to have within football associations like ours a large percentage of former players suffering from these disorders. The players we're seeing with it seem to have been playing in the Fifties and Sixties. We know about the prevalence of heavy footballs in those days. But we've also got players in their fifties showing signs of poor memory and so forth. We've written to almost every professional body in football and we've heard nothing back. We've had no response from anybody.

It's my view that the Football Association, the Football League and the Premier League have swept the issue under the carpet.',

A leading neuropathologist who works with the New York Jets say she's amazed that Britain seems to be 15 years behind America on the subject of sport and dementia.
'My fear is that some of the sports are just putting their head in the sand and there is a point when that just becomes criminal negligence. It's no good one sport sorting it out, we need to get all sports on board to change the whole culture.’

Eight years ago, Turin University, and New York’s Albert Einstein University completed studies in which they 7,000 professional footballers took part. Both Universities looked at the effects of heading footballs. Their findings appeared to show a direct link between repeated concussions, or sub-concussive blows, and early on-set dementia.
Concussion expert Professor David Dodick, of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, says more needs to be done to explore possible links between head injuries and contact sports in Britain.

He said:
'When you consider that the Turin research was published eight years ago, it is shocking more hasn't been done to investigate this. Were it not related to professional sports, this would have been explored in depth by now but it's not surprising given the level of secrecy which surrounds and shrouds professional sports.'

Since 1998 it has been tragic that where the subject of dementia and football is concerned, there has been no kind of inclination, or urgency, shown by the FA and PFA to improve matters for their players and members. It is a tragedy that the recent publicised cases of dementia are the “tip of an iceberg” and that others, including many household names, are living privately with degenerative conditions.

My own research has shown that there are teams from the 1950s and 1960s where five or six of the players in each team, have developed some form of dementia. One player perhaps would be in the odds but when you see this in team after team you really have to start wondering.

If I can see this, then surely the FA and Mr. Taylor can. In the past 18 years, the neglect and refusal to admit there is a huge problem that needed to be addressed with a matter of urgency is shameful. It is an insult to all the former players who have suffered and passed, and those who are still suffering, who in the years when the PFA needed them, stood shoulder to shoulder to fight for their rights, and lay the foundation for what the PFA is today.
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