Following the publication of a new study by University College London (UCL) on dementia among retired professional footballers in Britain, Michelle Crorie, head of accident and health at international law firm Clyde & Co, commented:
“This is the most significant study yet to link dementia in later life with the small but regular impacts professional footballers sustain to their heads over time. We know that repeated blows to the skull can lead to dementia; this has been shown to be the case in boxing. What’s not been appreciated is that a career of heading the ball and collisions with other players may have the same effect.
“There is also significant concern about current players given the speed that the ball travels. This needs to be the subject of further medical studies but no doubt clubs and the FA will reflect on this and insurers will want to consider how this could impact the range of insurances they provide.
“More scientific study is needed, but we appear to be moving inexorably towards a situation in which large numbers of former players – and perhaps current players – may seek compensation for the toll the game has taken on them.
“Claims pursued in relation to historical incidents bring with them the search for old insurance policies and, where there is a cumulative effect across a long period of time, issues of allocation across a range of years.”
In the United States in 2014, a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of current and former footballers and their parents was filed asking several organisations, including Fifa and the US Soccer Federation, to introduce more effective policies in managing and evaluating concussion.
The UCL Institute of Neurology study included post-mortem examinations on six players who suffered dementia. These post-mortems revealed that all six men had suffered from a tearing of the brain membrane consistent with chronic, repetitive head impacts from playing football. Incidence of that tearing in the general population is reported to be just six per cent.