Sir Alex Ferguson joins campaign to reclassify football brain injuries

Scottish football legends sign letter demanding football-related brain injuries be reclassified as industrial injuries.

Sir Alex Ferguson joins football campaign to recognise brain damage caused by headers as industrial injuries Alex Livesey / Staff via Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson has joined forces with 30 other football legends to demand that brain injuries caused by heading the ball are reclassified as industrial injuries.

The ex-Aberdeen and Manchester United boss joins three other former Scottish managers – Alex McLeish, Gordon Strachan and Craig Levein – in signing an open letter to the Scottish Government.

The “Injury Time” campaign is being led by Scottish Labour MSP Michael Marra and the publication of the letter comes just days after the death of Gordon McQueen, who passed away with dementia last week.

He was diagnosed two years ago and his family are convinced his condition was a result of repeated heading of the ball.

A study published last week found ex-professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to develop dementia.

Leanne Crichton, Joe Harper, Maurice Malpas, Alan Rough, Pat Nevin are among the other signatories on the letter.

Marra said: “The science here is clear, playing football has left our ex-pros up to five times more likely to suffer brain injuries than the average person. The causal factor is their time on the pitch, playing our national sport and playing for our clubs.

“These injuries were sustained playing for us, for our entertainment. We now have a duty to support those players and their families to live the best lives they can.

“These players did not make fortunes from the game – very far from it. This was another age but even today the average lifetime earnings of a professional footballer in Scotland remain low in terms of the population as a whole. By classifying brain injuries in football as an industrial injury we give those players and their families access to the benefit and support they need.

“I am incredibly grateful to those ex-players and managers who have signed the letter. This unprecedented intervention from the leaders of our national game shows that concern is growing and it demands national attention.

“They have led their clubs and country on the field and now they are leading the way in supporting their friends and colleagues.

The “Injury Time” campaign has three demands:

  • Classify brain injury in football as an industrial injury. Give ex-professionals access to the benefits and care they need and have earned.
  • Fund further research into the practical and preventative support within the game at all levels.
  • Establish a working group to consider the issues around brain injury and dementia, including in the grassroots and women’s games.

Former Scotland captain McLeish said: “From winning the Cup Winners Cup in 82/83 in Gothenburg to managing Rangers and Scotland, Football has been good to me. Making a living, running out in front of tens of thousands of people to help them make memories that will last a lifetime was a real privilege.

“It’s clear though that playing the game has taken a huge toll on many of my former team mates and opponents, the head knocks they took – primarily from heading the ball, has left them much more likely to suffer brain injuries and neurodegenerative disease than would otherwise have been the case.

“This should be recognised as the industrial injury it is and those boys who didn’t retire into luxury should have the access to benefits and extra support they might need.”

Glasgow University conducted a study last year based on the health records of around 8000 former professionals.

The study found goalkeepers were as likely as the rest of the population to suffer from a neurodegenerative disease, whereas outfield players were almost four times more likely.

A spokesperson for Head for Change, a charity pioneering positive change for brain health in sport, said: “Ex players suffering from dementia deserve no less. We have had too many words, too many slogans, too many press releases. Now we need action.

“Sports related dementia should and must be designated as an industrial disease.”

In 2020, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) issued guidance recommending no heading practice for primary-age children.

The number of headers allowed then increases gradually as players get older, but there are no limits on adult football.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit continues to be delivered by the UK government who decide which conditions should be prescribed for the purposes of the benefit.

“We recognise that there are a range of views on Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit which is why we have committed to a consultation in the next few months on our approach to replacing the scheme in Scotland.”

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