The Injury Time Campaign, launched by Michael Marra MSP in September 2021 working closely with both the PFA Scotland and the GMB trade union, seeks to have brain injuries sustained by former professional footballers recognised by the Scottish Government as an industrial injury.
The campaign emerged from a growing evidence base that former footballers are much more likely to suffer dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases than the general population.
Alongside the seemingly never-ending series of media stories of ex-players acknowledging their diagnoses and new realities came groundbreaking research from Dr William Stewart, a professor and researcher at the University of Glasgow’s School of Psychology and Neuroscience that showed that professional footballers suffer as a cohort an “approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected”. This varies depending upon where they played on the pitch, with defenders being up to five times more likely.
Dr Stewart’s research, published in “The New England Journal of Medicine … compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish male professional football players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 matched individuals from the general population.” The clarity that the research offers is welcome. It tells us clearly that the increased risk is linked inextricably to the sufferers’ former careers in football. The increased risk of brain injuries comes directly from their previous employment and activities that were a routine part of their job.
This is an industrial injury.
Our open letter has been supported by some of the biggest names in Scottish football, including four
former managers of the Scotland national team - Sir Alex Ferguson, Gordon Strachan, Alex McLeish and Craig Levein - alongside many former professional players from across the game.
Where are we now?
Currently, those injured at work can claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB). a weekly benefit paid to people who become disabled because of an accident at work or due to certain prescribed diseases caused by their job, or whilst working on an approved employment training scheme or course. There are set, recognised ‘prescribed’ diseases that are adjudged to meet this standard. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) currently makes recommendations for updating of the list of diseases and occupations that cause them for which the benefit can be claimed.
IIDB was due to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 2020, the Scottish Government’s plan is to replace this benefit with Employment Injury Assistance (EIA). That timetable has slipped and the Scottish Government has delayed the implementation of these powers. In the meantime, IIDB continues to be administered and paid by the UK Government’s Department of Work & Pensions (DWP).
There is now little to no information on when the powers on industrial injuries will finally by accepted by the Scottish Government
In relation to industrial Injuries there is no clarity on the process the Scottish Government intend to follow to recognise new industrial injuries and update the list of prescribed diseases.
Running parallel to this process, Mark Griffin MSP has launched a Private Member’s bill to establish a Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council (SEIAC) which would allow the Scottish Government the ability to forge its own path to designate new industrial injuries.
It is understood that the UK Government does not believe that the IIAC will be able to provide advice to Scottish Ministers in the future and that the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group believes that “there should be a Scottish equivalent of the IIAC established, with a short-term arrangement with IIAC agreed”.
As such, the Injury Time Campaign is very supportive of Griffin’s bill viewing it as the most straightforward way of responding to the need for all Scots who may experience industrial injuries. We would be happy though to engage with any alternative that the Scottish Government may propose.
What are the Injury Time Campaign’s Demands?
Classify brain injury in football as an industrial injury. Give those ex-pros access to the benefits and care they need and have earned.
Fund further research into the practical and preventative support that is needed within the game at all levels.
Establish a working group to consider the issues around brain injury and dementia, including in the grassroots and women’s games.
How will the Scottish Government deliver those demands?
The Scottish Government will soon have the powers needed to decide who receives Industrial Injuries Benefits or its own planned scheme known as Employment Injury Assistance. It is only delays by the Scottish Government that means it does not currently have those powers.
The UK Government’s belief that the existing Industrial Injuries Advisory Council cannot advise Scottish Ministers gives the Scottish Government the perfect opportunity to create it’s own system.
We are supportive of Mark Griffin MSP’s attempts to establish a Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council but understand that the Scottish Government may have its own preferred method of delivery and are willing to engage with that.
The Scottish Government can make supporting additional research in the area a priority by working with academics and institutions to deliver it.
A working group should be incredibly straightforward to deliver. It simply needs the will of government and football’s authorities to get in a room together.
How are brain injuries different from other football and sports injuries?
Almost all other injuries in sport are the result of one-off incidents and accidents. That is specifically and clearly not the case here. Repetitive head impacts, including heading of the ball thousands of times across the course of a career, are an expected and routine part of the job of being a professional football player.
Does this open up the government to various other claims from the sporting world?
Currently, only this issue from the world of sport contains the level of proof we think is required to see a designation of industrial injuries. It may be that other claims will be made in the future from within sport, those should be examined and responded to on their own merits.