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Andrew Bascome joins outcry over debilitating effects of heading the football

Cautious approach: Andrew Bascome does not practise heading the ball in training sessions for players aged 11 and under

Andrew Bascome has reiterated he is in favour of the Bermuda Football Association implementing island-wide guidelines restricting the teaching of heading to children.

The discussion was first raised in February after the English, Scottish and Irish football associations set out guidelines for coaches to no longer teach children 11 and under to head the ball, while also suggesting limits on how much heading older children should do.

The topic was reignited this week with a number of high-profile former players including David Beckham and Wayne Rooney backing calls for further research and action to be taken surrounding the long-suspected link between the sport and brain damage.

In 2002, a landmark inquest into the death of the former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle ruled that he died from dementia brought on by repeatedly heading the ball, while former World Cup winners Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles both also died from the disease. Another member of the 1966 team, Jack Charlton’s brother Bobby, had dementia diagnosed last month.

A 22-month research project by the University of Glasgow’s Brain Injury Group discovered there was a fivefold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s, a fourfold increase in motor neuron disease and a twofold increase in Parkinson’s.

The report was unable to establish whether the cause of the higher levels of brain disease was as a result of repeated concussions, heading footballs, or some other factor.

However, the Football Association, which helped to fund the research, has set up a new task force to further examine the issue of brain injury diseases, while Fifa has constructed an independent concussion advisory group.

Bascome, the co-founder of the ABC Football Foundation, which coaches children aged 7 to 17, spoke of his refusal to teach heading to younger players and believes the island's governing body should consider guidelines surrounding the subject.

“We don't practise heading the ball, especially with the players from 11 and under, no heading at all, I stay away from it,” he said. “There's issues surrounding long-term health effects and I'm sure it could have an effect.

“It is definitely something I take into consideration. For me, heading becomes more part of the game around the under-15 age group.”

Despite his concerns, Bascome acknowledged the difficulties of raising the restricted age to all children under 18, as some have suggested, or even banning it altogether in youth matches, as has been the case in the United States since 2015.

The rule change there, which banned heading for children under 10, came after a number of coaches and parents took legal action against the United States Soccer Federation.

“It’s a difficult one because the danger is that you lose the ability to learn the proper techniques,” Bascome added. “You can't eliminate it altogether because children will head the ball at times, but we don't practise it until they're a stronger in the neck muscles, and then we teach proper techniques.

“There has to be some sort of balance in the approach. In my opinion, the game can’t afford to lose heading altogether because then what happens with things like corners?

“However, no matter what opinions people have, if Fifa and the medical specialists are acknowledging the effects it can have on our children later in life, then it is definitely something that should be considered and would have to be followed.”

The BFA confirmed discussions surrounding the topic have been held, both in the past and this year, but has yet to implement any of the regulations present in other countries.

“The Player Development Committee follows developments in football globally closely and recently revisited previous discussions on this issue,” Mark Wade, the BFA president, said.

“When the discussion surfaced in the US in 2015, the PDC discussed it at length. It was discussed again when the English FA implemented guidelines earlier this year.

“At this time there is no position on the matter, but we will continue to monitor developments in other countries and consider any guidelines issued by the Fifa Medical Department.”

As well as the heading debate, football’s concussion protocols also came under scrutiny this week after a sickening clash of heads between Arsenal defender David Luiz and Wolves striker Raul Jiménez, who has since had surgery on a fractured skull.

While the Mexico forward was given oxygen on the pitch and taken off on a stretcher, Luiz returned to action, playing on for more than half an hour despite blood visibly seeping from his head bandage. He was eventually substituted at half-time.

Arsenal have since argued that protocols were followed regarding the decision to allow Luiz to play on, but others, including Bascome, have criticised them, citing a lack of player welfare.

“I don’t understand why he was allowed to play,” Bascome said. “It was such a bad situation and he should have been taken off immediately after the incident.

“As a sport, we have to keep the safety of the players as the priority. Winning has its place in football, but the safety of players has to rise above that.

“If that happened to one of my players, I would have taken them off immediately to protect the player.”

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Published December 02, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 01, 2020 at 8:34 pm)

Andrew Bascome joins outcry over debilitating effects of heading the football

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