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Dementia in sport: MPs told there is an ‘unquestionable’ link between brain injuries and football and rugby

Dan Kilpatrick
·2-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

MPs have been told that there is an “unquestionable” link between diseases such as dementia and contact sports, including football and rugby.

Professor Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow, told a Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing that training should be controlled in both sports to reduce the impact between head trauma and diseases in later life.

“The only thing that connects football to American football to boxing to rugby to wrestling to other sports where we’ve seen this pathology is head impacts and head injury exposure,” Professor Stewart said. “We have more than enough evidence that the only common factor is brain injury.

“Neurodegenerative disease, dementia and other conditions, was recorded on the death certificate in about 20 per cent of our former footballers against just over six per cent of the population control, so there’s a very real problem with neurodegenerative disease in football.”

Asked what steps could be taken, Professor Stewart said: “While recognisable head injuries are undoubtedly important, the cumulative effect of impact after impact after impact which don’t necessarily produce symptoms are just as important, perhaps even more important. So let’s think about how we reduce head impacts, improving on tackling [in rugby] and think about heading in training [in football].

“It’s one of these things where it needs to be legislated [in rugby], saying these are the maximum contact sessions per season. Let’s cut back on as much training as possible and that might produce a fantastic reduction to brain injuries and head impacts. If that’s not enough, could we cut back on the number of games?

“The last red-button step is to think about whether rugby is just too dangerous or football is just too dangerous. I don’t think we’ll ever get there.”

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