The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) is to implement rules aimed at reducing the risk of players developing brain injuries.
The measures will include a ban on football players under the age of 10 from heading footballs and a limit on the number of headers that 11 to 13-year-olds can make in training. The rules will only apply to USSF and Major League Soccer (MLS) youth teams — they will be treated as guidelines for other teams outside USSF and MLS control.
It is understood that the new rules have been introduced following the “soccer moms” class-action lawsuit. In this case, a group of young footballers and their parents sued the USSF, Fifa and other football governing bodies, arguing that they were negligent in not doing enough to treat and monitor head injuries in young players.
For more detail on this case, see our previous blog: Head Injuries in Sport - Parents Sue FIFA over Concussions
Will the New Rules Reduce Brain Injuries Among Young Footballers?
US Soccer have said that "protecting the health and safety of athletes and preventing injuries is critically important" and that they strongly urge football clubs to follow the new guidelines, which are "based on the advice of the US Soccer medical committee".
In the UK, the Football Association says it has “noted the new rule changes outlined by US Soccer” and that it will “closely monitor any new research in this area”.
Over the last few years, there have been various studies into the effect on the brain of repeated heading of a football and the brain injury risk in school sports. Dr Michael Grey, a leading neuro-science expert at the University of Birmingham, has said there is “increasing evidence to suggest there may be a problem” with head injuries in football, particularly in younger players. Dr Grey argues that children’s brains are not sufficiently developed to handle the shock impact caused by heading a football.
The Jeff Astle Foundation, set up in April this year to raise awareness of brain injury in sport, has called for more research in this area.
It’s unclear at the moment whether a US-style ban on heading footballs will be implemented in the UK – or whether the US ban itself will reduce the number of brain injuries among young players. The ban by US Soccer only applies to a limited category of people playing the sport – so it seems to us that more research is before we can say we have conclusive proof of the brain injury risk – but perhaps it’s no bad thing to limit headers for our youngest footballers, who all develop at different rates.
Andrew Zajac is a serious injuries solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cambridge.
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