Football brain injury campaign to be debated by MSPs at Holyrood

MSPs will today issue a groundbreaking call for brain injuries in footballers to be treated as industrial accidents.

The historic debate at Holyrood comes amid growing evidence that cases of dementia in ex pros are linked to heading balls.

Labour MSP Michael Marra, who is leading the campaign, said: “These injuries are clearly a result of the time that these men spent playing the game we all love.

“They have unknowingly sacrificed their health for our entertainment and it’s time that we supported them properly.”

A 2019 study by Professor Willie Stewart found that former footballers were about three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative brain disease than the general public.

Newer research concluded the risk is greater for defenders.

Marra, who is being backed by the GMB and PFA trade unions, has three demands as part of the “Injury Time” campaign.

He wants brain injuries formally classified as accidents, an outcome that could lead to affected ex-footballers receiving welfare payments.

He is also demanding research into preventative measures and wants a working group to consider issues around brain injury and dementia..

Some of Scottish football’s most legendary figures, such late Celtic skipper Billy McNeill and ex-Dundee Utd manager Jim McLean, passed away after living with dementia.

Ex Watford striker George Reilly, 63, who was diagnosed with dementia, told the Record in August he is backing the campaign:

“It has been brushed under the carpet for too long. Every month there are more footballers getting diagnosed.”

The latest star to be diagnosed is Scotland’s record goalscorer Denis Law, who blamed heading the ball for his dementia.

Law said: “What else would it be? That was what caused damage to the brain. You were heading the ball, which was quite heavy in those days, but you didn’t think about it. We just thought it was normal.”

Marra said ahead of the debate: “This debate is key in ensuring real action is taken on this issue. Action from the Scottish Government is needed now.

“Every month now, we hear of more high-profile cases of former footballers being diagnosed. Behind those high profile cases will be dozens more unreported, where families are struggling on, doing their best for their loved ones and our heroes.

“The Scottish Government must recognise that these injuries are a form of industrial disease and allow these players to access the support they need, and deserve.”

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