Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Bruce unsure about outlawing heading

Published:Saturday | November 18, 2017 | 12:00 AMRachid Parchment
Kingston College captain Javain Brown (right) and Excelsior's Kimani Decombre challenge for a header during their ISSA/Flow Manning Cup game at the Courtney Walsh Oval at Excelsior High on October 6.

Consultant neurosurgeon at the University of the West Indies Dr Carl Bruce, has said that there is not yet enough data available on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) to make significant rule changes in local football regarding heading the ball.

CTE is a disease that research on athletes in contact sports after their deaths has shown the deterioration of their brains over time due to repetitive trauma to the organ. The discussion on CTE has been heightened recently because of research done by Nigerian-American neuropathologist Dr Bennet Omalu. In 2002, Omalu did an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster, who died after years of mental issues, including depression, mood disorders and suicide attempts. Omalu found that Webster suffered from CTE, which was otherwise referred to as dementia pugilistica (dementia induced by repeated blows to the head, a condition found previously in boxers).

Since then, many other former NFL players have not only come forward citing concerns over the disease, but have also filed lawsuits against the league; claiming that during the 1970s through the 1990s, players were coached to use their helmets as weapons against opponents while blocking or tackling.




In association football, ongoing studies in the United Kingdom are finding that heading the ball may be a contributing factor in footballers developing CTE later in their lives. One notable case in England is that of former West Bromwich Albion player Jeff Astle, who died in 2002 from symptoms related to dementia. Research linked his dementia to Astle's frequent heading of the ball in his time as a player, which he was famous for.

Local sport medicine specialist Dr Paul Wright, said in his column The Wright View, that heading in football should be outlawed at the youth level, like it is in the United States.

"The relevant question for us in Jamaica is: What is being done by the Jamaica Football Federation and ISSA to protect our children who play football from primary school to the intercollegiate level? Here are my suggestions:

"Ban heading the ball in all games where the participants are 10 years or younger.

"In all games where the participants are under the age of 18, make heading the ball a foul. As an added incentive to ensure compliance, make the refs who fail to award a foul when a ball is headed be liable to legal sanctions.

"These ideas need to be discussed because the world is now becoming more aware of the dangers involved in heading the ball in football. Heading is not necessary in the game of football. The game can be played without this 'skill'. Football without heading would promote possession and passing, with the onus on skill and movement with the ball on the ground," Wright said in his column on October 3.

But Bruce said that he is reserving his opinion on such a measure until more data becomes available.

"I cannot say whether I support it or not," Bruce told The Gleaner. "The data is out on that, and we're gonna follow up with the data on that from FIFA and UEFA. There are some countries that have gone ahead before in some age groups, to restrict the heading of the ball. But I believe the professional bodies in soccer have not yet, in those countries, had enough data. As a result of that, I don't believe that FIFA accepts those rules and I suspect the jury is out on that. Concussion, and even subconcussions, usually are more severe when the athlete gets an unexpected injury. When the injury is expected, or when you see a blow coming, you protect yourself. It's different from an unprotected blow. I think as a result of that, the jury is out on age-group-related rules for heading of the soccer ball."