March 26, 2021
The Premier League has confirmed it will launch two studies to discover how footballers’ brains are affected by heading as the sport battles to tackle its dementia crisis.
It comes after Sportsmail exclusively revealed this week that Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester City will spearhead a new landmark investigation which will see players trial a mouthguard.
Results from the studies will help governing bodies develop guidelines for heading in training at both professional and adult levels, which are expected to come into place before the start of next season.
The Premier League, FA, EFL, Women’s Super League, Professional Footballers’ Association and League Managers’ Association all signed off on the studies.
The trial is set to begin next month and initial findings are due to be presented to football’s key decision-makers by the end of this season as they consider possible next steps to keep players safe.
The ground-breaking study, led by the Premier League’s medical adviser Dr Mark Gillett, will provide data on how heading the ball in different ways, comparing short and long distances, can have differing impacts on the brain.
A group of players from Liverpool’s under-23, under-18 and women’s teams, as well as Manchester City’s under-18s and women’s teams will participate in one of the studies.
Players will be provided with PROTECHT mouthguards, which will collect data to show how the force and frequency of impacts on the head affect the brain and body.
It is understood that the technology, which sends live data to a pitch-side computer through a chip inserted into the gumshield, will help analyse traditional drills and possibly training games, which would give medics a better idea of any trauma suffered during matches.
A second study will then compare match-tracking data from the 2019/20 Premier League season with results from the mouthguard study.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: ‘The Premier League’s focus is to make the game as safe as possible for all players.
‘We are working with our partners across football to achieve this and the research studies we are undertaking are just one example of our commitment to this important issue.
‘We hope the results of this project will contribute to the development of practical guidelines for the professional and adult game in this country.’
Experts have told Sportsmail that they consider 20 headers per session a suitable maximum, with a minimum of 48 hours between these sessions — which became a key demand of Sportsmail’s four-month campaign to tackle football’s dementia problem.
Groundbreaking research has already found that footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from degenerative brain diseases such as dementia, and previous studies suggest even 20 headers can have an impact on brain function.
Given the FA admitted that an independent panel of experts recently advised them to limit the exposure of players to heading, campaigners — including Sportsmail’s Chris Sutton — are keen for restrictions to be imposed sooner rather than later.
The mouthguard, developed by Swansea-based Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA), cannot diagnose concussion or injury, but it helps medics know when someone needs to be examined, replaced or protected.
The Premier League also announced it has also joined Alzheimer’s Society’s Sport United Against Dementia campaign.
The league will aim to generate funds and awareness of the condition across research, community and support. Premier League Executive Director Bill Bush will sit on the Board of the campaign.