Football Federation Australia (FFA) isn’t doing enough to protect players from brain damage and the Nicholas D’Agostino head clash incident last weekend is another example of that.

The potential for permanent brain damage is something long associated with boxing, the NFL and even sports like rugby union, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that football players are also at risk.

A recent study in the American Journal of Neurology found that football players who head the ball regularly are up to three times more likely to suffer permanent brain damage than those who don’t. The results suggest that even amateur soccer players might be at risk of doing long term damage to their brains

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Head clashes and other harder blows to the head are even more damaging and both FIFA and the FFA have guidelines stating that people who suffer blows to the head should be removed from play immediately.

Yet on the weekend D’Agostino went down with a head knock and the player was allowed to continue on the field. In both these incidents and countless others, players are often left on the field of play longer than they should be or are return to it without proper medical attention.

“It’s critical that when someone receives a blow to the head they’re removed from the field of play,” says  founder of HeadSafe, Dr. Adrian Cohen.

“Because if they sustain a concussion the second injury can prove to be catastrophic.”

Though Dr. Cohen’s research mostly concerns rugby (where the rate of concussion is around 10 per 1000 contact hours versus soccer at around two or three per 1000) he does recognize that soccer players are also at serious risk.

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“We’re aware – and this is where Soccer comes in – that some people who have had what are called sub-concussive impacts over a period of time had damage to their brain as a result,” says Dr. Cohen.

This risk has implications at youth and amateur levels of the game as well. In 2015, US Soccer unveiled an initiative that would outlaw the practice of heading the ball for players 11 years and under, and restricted the practice in those players aged between 11 and 13.

This was in response to other studies that found a link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the soccer players who were accomplished at heading the ball.

CTE is degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed postmortem and is thought to lead to dementia as well as a host of other neurological issues. With growing public awareness (started by cases in the NFL) the spotlight has started to turn to soccer.

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Despite these alleged risks, it has been reported that the FFA have no intention of following US Soccer and outlawing heading at the junior level.

“Do we mandate that people don’t let kids head the ball or do we educate about which things you should concentrate on and which things should wait?” says Football NSW Coach Education Manager, Oscar Gonzalez.

Regardless of whether heading is allowed at junior levels, Dr. Cohen believes that more needs to be done to train officials and coaches at spotting the symptoms of concussion.

“At all levels education is the key,” says Cohen.

“If it’s not recognised we can’t manage it and therefore we can’t prevent these things from happening.”

Currently, FFA encourages coaches and officials to attend workshops on concussions but doesn’t require attendance as part of coaching accreditation.

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Football fan, writer, and post-grad journalism student at the University of Technology Sydney. Joined the team in 2017 to cover Sydney FC and the Central Coast Mariners.