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  • Writer's pictureMichael Marra MSP

Injury Time

Just a few years ago, it would have been extraordinary to open a newspaper or scroll through social media and find news of our footballing heroes suffering dementia.

Now though, there’s a steady stream of these stories. It often feels like barely a month goes by without one of those players who gave us so much joy revealing the difficult, heart breaking new reality they and their families are struggling with.

We know why this is. We know why that roll call is growing.

Those footballers have been left up to five times more likely to suffer neurodegenerative disease than the general population due to repetitive impacts to the head. The research is around the heading of the ball but ex-pros have persistently raised too the issue of thousands of other head knocks they experienced over their careers.

And let’s be clear, we are not talking about old heavy balls, concussion protocols, one-off incidents or any of the other ways in which players may become injured and need support. We are talking about the repetitive impacts gained at work, in the normal course of their duties.

By any definition you consult this is an industrial injury. The scientists know it. The game knows it too, as exemplified by the broad support that our campaign has from legends of the Scottish game.

Scottish football has taken many welcome steps in recent years to protect current and future players. The banning of heading for under 12s, the limiting of heading the ball in training immediately before and after matches and more. These are all welcome and that conversation must continue.

The discussion must also broaden and deepen. This is not just a game played by men and professionals. There has been a fantastic explosion of the game amongst women and girls but the research has not been able to keep pace and we do not yet know if there is a long term differential impact on women and girls. The research has so far been primarily limited to those who played the game professionally but we know there are thousands playing at the grass roots every week from an early age until late in their lives.

There is a real need to involve all of those players, from the youngest girl to the oldest man, to properly understand the issue and protect their futures. But it is not enough to fix the problem for future generations.

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