The Cost of Football, Heading and Brain Injury to Health Services

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The Societal Costs of Heading a Football




A strategy is needed to consider the long-term effects of sporting injury on the brain.  Such a plan would discuss the costs of sport on health and social services.  It would also examine what government interventions are needed to reduce the number of brain injuries.  This strategy would be similar to policy advice to reduce flooding and anti bacterial resistance.  The focus here is on the effect of heading a football.  There is enough evidence that heading a football increases the risk of dementia in retired footballers.  See the start of the video below for more detail.


Football, Heading and the Implications for Society


The costs to the NHS are external to the decisions made in the football industry regarding what is an acceptable level of 'football safety'.  The football industry takes action to meet its own needs. It is now common practice, for a footballer with a head injury, after competing for a ball in 'the air', to be substituted.  However, this may not prevent long-term brain injury as a player could be passed fit to play again soon after.  There is still potentially a cost to the NHS, the footballer and his family.  This is a cost which appears to be overlooked by the industry.


The National Health Service (NHS) is expected to pay for the treatment and care costs of a retired footballer, if they develop dementia from playing football.  This is similar to the costs that smoking imposes on the NHS; as the NHS is expected to pay for the treatment of smoking related illnesses.


A Solution to the Societal Cost of Head Injury from Football


The sport could significantly reduce the number of head injuries by reverting to the original Football Association rules of 1863 where the game was played without any heading of the football.  The heading of the ball only emerged 12 years later.  A tax could be levied on football to encourage the sport to revert back to being played using the feet only.  This would be similar to taxation on cigarettes to reduce the incidence of smoking.  Such a tax could be removed if the game returned to the original rules.


The justification of this measure is that football needs to be treated in the same way as other sectors of the economy.  Industries which damage wider society need to have their activities corrected.  If a factory polluted a river and the water became polluted then government intervention would be expected.  It can, again, be argued that many former professional footballers have died prematurely from heading a football.  The concern is not just over premature death but also the loss of quality of life from dementia in later years. The effects of playing football could be felt for decades after the end of a playing career.  The football field is the place of work for the footballer and the industry has a duty of care  to protect players from unnecessary injury. The welfare of the footballer has to take precedence over the needs of all the spectators who want to watch football.




Further research is needed into heading a football and the potential for long-term brain damage.  However, government action should be taken regardless of the need for additional investigation. The main reason for this is to avoid a clash of heads when footballers compete for the ball, in the air, particularly in and around the penalty box.  It is possible to reduce the number of head injuries substantially although foot, ankle and leg injuries will remain.    To summarise, preventative action can be taken without a full understanding of the scale of the health problem.


Video:  Football, Heading and Brain Injury

YouTube Video