At the end of last year, I was able to provide an update on the progress that we have made since the publication of the FIELD study in October 2019.
I was able to confirm the steps we are taking to advise possible changes to heading coaching, review concussion management protocols, and also give an update on the ongoing research studies that we are currently supporting.
Last year, the FIELD study gave us groundbreaking insight that proved that the former professional footballers in the study, who were born between 1900 and 1976, were around 3.5 times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease, including dementia, than the matched population. However, the study did not ask or address ‘what’ causes the link. This will be our primary focus going forward.
The FA has helped to lead the way in research into the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease in ex-professional footballers and our knowledge in this area has made a significant step forward. However, in my last update I mentioned how important momentum is if we are to build a greater understanding in this area.
Now I’m pleased to say that I have a further update. Following consultation and collaboration with our independently-chaired Research Taskforce, we have now agreed the principal research question for further independent research into neurodegenerative disorders in former professional footballers.
The new research question will be: "What is the cause of the observed increased risk of death from neurodegenerative disorders in former professional footballers found in the FIELD study?"
The aim will be to also address secondary questions such as the risk to current players, risks at different levels of the game, the nature of any risk in childhood, the risk in other sports and the risk in women’s as well as men’s football.
I’m pleased that our Research Taskforce has identified this new course of action for us to further understand this very complex but important area through supporting high quality research.
We will now work with other football stakeholders to agree next steps, future funding and a potential timeline for the study. Once this is confirmed, we will issue a call for research for any research team, anywhere in the world, to submit their proposals for consideration by our Research Taskforce. We will issue a further update on this process in due course.
SUPPORT FROM FORMER PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLERS REQUIRED
The FA and the PFA are pleased to be joint-funding the FOCUS study at Nottingham University, a study of brain function and joint health in former professional footballers. The university will be sending out letters throughout 2020 to enlist as many former professional footballers as possible to their study.
In addition, we're providing support to the HEADING study led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, also looking at brain function in former professional footballers. Their researchers have already been contacting former players to ask them to take part.
The involvement of former professional footballers in these research studies is absolutely crucial. Without their support it will be almost impossible to make the important progress we wish to make.
I would personally like to urge any former professional footballer who receives a letter or email about these studies to please get in touch and get involved. Progress and understanding can only be made with the support of the former professional footballer community. Even a small level of their involvement could make a huge difference.