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Suffering footballers have to wait YEARS for dementia support

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Dementia in football and other sports is still years away from being recognized as an industrial disease.

Sportsmail has seen a letter from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) trying to manage expectations. It explains that the IIAC is aware of “several potentially important ongoing studies that may not yield results for several years.”

It also warns that even after the IIAC recommended adding Dupuytren’s contracture – known as ‘miner’s claw’ – to the list of prescribed diseases in 2014, it took until the end of 2019 for the regulations to take effect. The letter goes on to list some other reasons why there will be a delay. They include prioritizing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with two issues that ‘take most of the Council’s time’.

Dementia in football and other sports is years away from being recognized as an industrial disease

It also warns that there are complications when it comes to a disease that is widespread among the general public, and that resources at the IIAC are “scarce.”

This comes nearly two decades after Jeff Astle, the former West Bromwich Albion and England goalscorer, considered his death in 2002 at the age of 59 a result of his career. Several high-profile former stars, such as Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, have been diagnosed with dementia in recent years.

“As if enough time hadn’t passed already,” said Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton. ‘It’s sad news. Former miners can claim government assistance for knee osteoarthritis because they were later damaged by the nature of their work. I think there is enough evidence to say that footballers have also suffered damage from their work.”

With initial support from the PFA and the Jeff Astle Foundation, the charity Head for Change, led by Dr. Judith Gates, regular contact with the IIAC.

By formally recognizing a brain disease, former players could claim disability benefits, which can amount to up to £180 a week. The IIAC recently agreed to expand their research to include rugby, boxing and horse racing.

To pass neurodegenerative diseases in sports, the IIAC says there must be a “relative risk of more than two.” In other words, the risk of the disease should be at least double for those in that workplace, compared to the general population.

A letter from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council listed several reasons why there will be delays in formally recognizing the disease as industry-related

A letter from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council listed several reasons why there will be delays in formally recognizing the disease as industry-related

dr. Gates believes that they have provided the IIAC with research that amply meets this criterion. From the research of Dr. Willie Stewart in 2019 found that former football players are three and a half times more likely to die from dementia than the general population. It is argued that this is evidence that the IIAC threshold is met, as the ‘relative risk’ is 3.5. But the IIAC insists more research is needed.

In response, Dr. Gates gives the IIAC access to an extensive archive collected by Stephen Casper, a historian of medicine at Clarkson University in New York. Casper also offered to help the IIAC revise its database.

dr. Gates reminded the IIAC that while they waited, former football players died and families struggled under the financial pressure to care for their loved ones. However, in the letter that Sportsmail saw, the IIAC said they “don’t have the resources” to look through that pile of potential evidence “unless, of course, the archive is searchable.”

Casper says he respects the challenge posed by the IIAC and told Sportsmail: “As a historian of neurology studying this, I hope people keep in mind that what passes for excellent evidence in medicine changes with each generation.

By formally recognizing a brain disease, former players can claim injury benefits

By formally recognizing a brain disease, former players can claim injury benefits

“No doctor in the 1950s or 1960s could have known what our standards of evidence would be, any more than we can anticipate what people will make of our efforts in the future.”

The IIAC letter adds: ‘The Council is aware that other studies in this area will be reported shortly, for example some funded through the Drake Foundation. This, together with an extensive literature search, will help with the research.’

The Drake Foundation announced their HEADING study in 2018, which looked at the link between ball heading or concussion and long-term cognitive function. Three years later, their website states that they are still looking for participants.

The person in charge of that research is Professor Neil Pearce, who has also chaired every meeting of the IIAC Research Working Group since neurodegenerative diseases in sport were first discussed in March 2020. The minutes of those meetings indicate that there is a need is subject to more research.

Sportsmail pundit Chris Sutton, whose father Mike (left) died of dementia last year, has expressed frustration at the news of this setback

Sportsmail pundit Chris Sutton, whose father Mike (left) died of dementia last year, has expressed frustration at the news of this setback

It is the task of the IIAC to make recommendations for additions to the list of prescribed diseases. If this happens, the Work and Pensions Department must assess the case.

While it will be years before brain damage is recognized in sport as an industrial disease, former England captain Dave Watson is battling an individual claim.

His family learned Thursday that they’ve managed to classify ten separate head injuries that Watson sustained in the 1970s and 1980s as “industrial accidents.”

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