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Parliamentary inquiry to investigate links between sport and long term brain injury

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

We welcome the announcement from UK Parliament that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee are launching an inquiry to investigate links between participation in contact sports and long-term brain injury. As part of the inquiry, the committee will be considering scientific evidence for links between head trauma and the development of diseases which cause dementia.

Much of the recent attention on sports-related brain injury and risk for dementia in later life has been prompted by the findings of the FIELD study, led from the University of Glasgow. The FIELD study looked at health records of over 7,000 former professional football players in Scotland. The research found that, while they were at lower risk of heart disease, mental health disorders and certain cancers, the former footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disease when compared to the general population.

Dr Willie Stewart, Consultant Neuropathologist and Lead Researcher on the FIELD study said: “Current best evidence supports the association between elite-level contact sports participation and increased risk of dementia and similar conditions. On the balance of probabilities, this represents a consequence of exposure to repetitive head impacts and brain injuries.

This investigation by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is timely as we now need to consider not only how we might work with sport to reduce exposure to head injuries, but also how we might work with former athletes to reduce risk of dementia once they have left the game”

Prof Craig Ritchie, Director of Brain Health Scotland said: “We are delighted to see this inquiry being established to address this critically important issue. Working closely with ex-players over recent months we have come to realise first hand their concerns and will look to develop the best support and information based on the best and most recent research evidence with them. We are delighted that this inquiry will also look into where the research evidence gaps are and how best to fill them.”

Willie and Craig will both be contributing as expert witnesses during the select committee hearing on 9th March.

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