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Sporting head injuries and dementia

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The sports pages and news pages have been awash with stories of the proposed European Super League, its impact on the beautiful game, its apparent disdain for the fans and the fact that it is not likely to go ahead. But an arguably far more important issue facing football and professional sport in general has gone relatively unnoticed.

Recently the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee announced that they will be launching a “Concussion in Sport” inquiry to examine the scientific evidence for links between head trauma and dementia and how these risks could be mitigated.

The prominence of dementia as a result of a sporting associated injury was highlighted in a study from 2019, which found that former professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die due to dementia than people of the same age range in the general population. A number of former premier league footballers joined further studies at the end of 2020.

A great deal of recent media coverage and references have highlighted growing concerns around head trauma in sport, including:

The DCMS committee chair Julian Knight MP has said:

“This inquiry will consider scientific evidence to link sport with the incidence of long-term brain injury. We will look particularly at what role national governing bodies should be taking and their responsibilities to understand risks involved for players and what actions might be taken to mitigate them. We’re seeing a number of cases involving brain injury in sport likely to reach the doors of our law courts and we will also look at the implications for sport in the longer term of any successful legal claim.”

Tom Iannaccone, paralegal in the serious injury team at Shoosmiths says:

“We have seen professional rugby players commencing legal action against the sport’s governing bodies for failure to protect them from the risks of and associated with concussion. Whilst the DCMS committee will not consider on-going legal proceedings, it will examine the implications of any successful legal action and its findings are likely to have an impact on future claimants and their decisions to commence legal action where there is a failure to take adequate steps to protect and mitigate the risks of head injury.”

Tom concludes:

“Of course, whilst any sport carries a risk of injury, Shoosmiths is pleased to see that steps are being taken to mitigate the potential for long-term brain injury. We act for a number of clients who have been impacted by brain injuries to help them rebuild their lives following the incident, but above all we welcome the investigation by the committee and look forward to their suggestions as to how to keep players safe.”

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