Former Canaries striker Iwan Roberts backs kids heading ban
PUBLISHED: 15:21 24 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:20 24 February 2020
Former Norwich City footballer Iwan Roberts has welcomed a heading ban in football training for children up to the end of primary school.
The England, Northern Ireland and Scotland football associations are introducing the ban with immediate effect after confirming changes to their heading guidance.
The changes state there would be no heading at all in the "foundation phase" - primary school children - and a graduated approach to heading in training in under-12s to under-16s football.
It comes in the wake of the FIELD study which showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.
MORE: Former footballer Iwan Roberts tells of his dementia fears as new study launched in Norwich
Iwan Roberts, 51, who played more than 600 games for club and country, including 278 for the Canaries between 1997 and 2004, is among the ex-pros who have agreed to brain tests for the rest of his life as part of a University of East Anglia study into early signs of dementia.
He said: "I do think it is the right call. Until we know for sure that is doesn't have an effect on children, which is evidence I don't think they will ever have, it is better to be safe than sorry.
"With everything that has been proven about the connection between dementia and ex-footballers, they need protection.
"It is something that has happened in America for many years, the Scottish FA made a stand a few weeks ago, and now the English FA has followed suit."
The FIELD study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among footballers, but the decision to update the guidelines has been taken to "mitigate against any potential risks", the FA said in a statement.
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The former Canaries striker, who chalked up 239 goals during his 20-year career, which ended in 2005, is to undertake memory, attention and spatial-awareness tests every six months as part of the SCORES study at the UEA. Researchers will then compare his results with those of an active person of similar age.
He said: "I have done quite a lot with this over the last six or seven months. The human brain doesn't fully develop until 25. A child's brain has only half developed when they are heading a ball and the shaking of the brain in that skull and the trauma that can cause, we don't know what damage it can do."
Dr Michael Grey, from UEA's School of Health Sciences, said: "The new guidelines on heading the ball are welcome. Whilst we do not want to change the game, there is good evidence to suggest repetitive sub-concussive injury should be minimised.
"The new guidelines go some way to reducing repetitive head trauma exposure in football. They are however, guidelines rather than rules and the onus is now on coaches and trainers to ensure they are followed."
THE UPDATED HEADING GUIDANCE
* Heading guidance in training for all age groups between under-six and under-18
* No heading in training in the foundation phase (primary school children)
* Graduated approach to heading training for children in the development phase between under-12 to under-16
* Required ball sizes for training and matches for each age group
* No changes to heading in matches, taking into consideration the limited number of headers in youth games