18.11.2020 12:20 h

World Cup hero Hurst supports ban on children heading ball

England's 1966 World Cup hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst says children should be banned from heading footballs as pressure grows on the game's authorities to act over fears of brain injuries caused by playing the game.

Several of Hurst's 1966 team-mates have been diagnosed with dementia. Nobby Stiles died of the disease last month, while Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton is the latest World Cup winner to be diagnosed.

Charlton's brother Jack, Ray Wilson and Martin Peters -- the other England goalscorer in the 4-2 win over the then West Germany in the final -- were also diagnosed with it and have died in the last three years.

Heading for children under 12 has already been banned in the UK, but Hurst is in favour of extending that to children of all ages.

"It would be a very strong and sensible suggestion," Hurst, one of just four surviving English World Cup winners, told the Daily Mirror.

"I think stopping at that young age, when the brain has not matured, must be looked at.

"I don't think it would destroy the enjoyment of kids' football or grassroots football."

Findings contained in the a study, led by Professor Willie Stewart, published last year found footballers were at a significantly heightened risk of developing a range of neurodegenerative diseases compared to the general population.

However, the chief medical officer of global players' union FIFPro, Dr Vincent Gouttebarge, believes more scientific evidence is required to establish the link between repeated heading of the ball and neurodegenerative disease.

"I know in the UK you have referred to the very good study from Professor Willie Stewart, but I looked at the study again this morning and I didn't see the words 'heading' or 'concussion' mentioned one time in this study," Gouttebarge told the Press Association.

"Based on that study a lot of media in the UK made the conclusion that heading the ball or concussion lead to dementia, and I don't think this is a very thorough conclusion.

"I don't think we have the scientific evidence with this study that there is a causal relationship between heading the ball, concussion and dementia."

The English Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) have agreed to form a taskforce with campaigners like Dawn Astle, whose father Jeff's death was ruled by a coroner in 2002 to be as a result of a brain injury sustained through repeated heading of a ball, and former Chelsea and Celtic striker Chris Sutton, whose dad is another former player suffering from dementia, to further examine brain injury diseases in football.

The PFA have previously been criticised for not sufficiently funding research into the issue.

On Tuesday, the Stiles family said older players had been "forgotten" by the PFA.

"How can it be that these players are left needing help when their own union (the Professional Footballers' Association) has tens of millions of pounds available today?" The Stiles family said in a statement.

"How can it be that these players (are) struggling when the Premier League receives £3bn a year?

"The modern player will never need the help required by the older lads.

"How can it be right that some of the heroes of 1966 had to sell their medals to provide for the families?"

A legal action aiming to secure compensation for former athletes over brain injuries caused by football and other contact sport has begun, according to lawyers bringing the case.

"The stories emerging tell us of a pattern of silent suffering caused by life-changing and sadly often fatal brain injury conditions, that underlies that this is a serious endemic issue," said Nick De Marco QC.