The concern of dementia as the impact of frequent headings in football has been increasing lately, especially after the findings on the unusually identical brain condition of several former players in the past few years. Such issue, as a matter of fact, had been discussed in 1984 when the article about the danger of heading was published in FIFA magazine. Unfortunately, the world football governing body themselves seemingly ignored it as there was no further massive research or attempt to introduce a new rule to reduce headings for the sake of players' well-being.
That particular article entitled 'How Dangerous Is Heading?’ was written by Vojin N Smodlaka, professor for rehabilitation medicine at the State University of New York College of Medicine in Brooklyn. It was submitted to FIFA’s medical committee on October 26, 1984. He already stated that the players had been said to potentially suffer chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a physical condition found in a number of former players in England lately, including several members of England squad in World Cup 1966 such as Nobby Styles who were just passing last year, Jack Charlton, Martin Peters and even the former Manchester United star, Sir Bobby Charlton. This article also suggested that only reducing it, if not entirely abolishing it, could prevent the players from having such brain damage.
The raising concerns on the danger of heading in football has just emerged after the statement from the Neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart in 2019, or more than 30 years after the article in FIFA magazine was discovered by a historian of medicine at Clarkson University in New York, Stephen T Casper. Professor Stewart said that footballers had 3.5 times higher risk of death due to brain disorder than general population. The Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at University of Glasgow also concerned about its looming threat on players' health if there is no intervention from football authorities to modify the game of football in the near future. The campaign on promoting less heading due to the dementia danger has been a major goal lately along with the FIELD (Football's InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk), a charity-funded intensive study by PFA (Professional Football Association).
Apparently, the ongoing research and report from Professor Stewart who has been commissioned by FA and PFA as one of the leading experts in this study since 2017 has paid off. The new rule on heading will be imposed in the professional football next season. Players will be limited to 10 'higher-force' headers in training from long passes, corners or free-kicks, whereas the semi pro players should be limited to 10 headers per week. It might not be ideal yet but it is a promising start since the accurate results for such change might only be gained in 30 to 40 years. Moreover, Professor Stewart also suggested football referring to the adjustment in rugby regulation to minimize the violent tackling.
Meanwhile, FIFA through their spokeperson released the statement regarding this issue.
‘FIFA takes its responsibility in relation to the topic of brain injuries very seriously as protecting the health of players is, and will remain a top priority in developing the game. FIFA has made tackling the issue of brain injuries a key objective of its medical subdivision and is currently looking at research into all areas of brain health at a global level and is in regular contact with leading research centres and experts to develop guidelines on a variety of medical topics in order to share the latest findings with its 211 member associations.'
If the article in 1984 had been seriously considered by FIFA, we would already be seeing a different kind of football today. It might be considered as a rather late response but the change is inevitable sooner or later. It would not be a surprise if the emphasis on technical abilities and creativity with more dribbling, short and through passes on the pitch are more popular in the future than the power and speed with frequent aerial duels. The classic English kick and rush would have to see the end of the line soon.