Sport left to 'mark its own homework' on brain injuries, DCMS say

Sport has been left to ‘mark its own homework’ on brain injuries, a DCMS investigation finds… with the FA and PFA accused of ignoring the issue in football and MPs calling for an end to ‘long-term failure’ over reducing risks

  • A scathing DCMS report into brain injury in sport has been released on Thursday 
  • The investigation found that sport has been left to regulate itself over the issue 
  • Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton has been hailed for his campaign on dementia
  • Dawn Astle, daughter of West Brom legend Jeff, is also praised for campaigning 
  • The DCMS called for an end to the ‘long-term failure’ to reduce the risk of trauma 

Sport has been left to ‘mark its own homework’, a DCMS Committee investigation into brain injury has found, with the FA and PFA also accused of ignoring the issue in football.

In a report released on Thursday, Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton, who has led this newspaper’s campaign regarding dementia, is hailed for his efforts. 

Dawn Astle is also praised for campaigning while football’s bodies failed to tackle the problem after a coroner said heading the ball killed her father, Jeff, who died from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in 2002. 

Following five evidence-gathering sessions with MPs, the DCMS say they are ‘astounded’ by sport being left by the Health and Safety Executive – the UK’s national regulator for workplace welfare – to regulate itself.

‘The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a duty of care on employers to protect the health of workers which should apply equally to footballers and jockeys as well as miners or construction workers,’ the Committee say. 

‘The report finds that statutory responsibilities for employees have effectively been delated to national governing bodies to manage.’

A coroner said that heading the ball killed ex-West Brom striker Jeff Astle (pictured in 1970)

 Dawn Astle (left), Jeff’s daughter (R), has been praised for campaigning about brain injuries

They have now called for urgent action from the Government and sporting bodies to address a ‘long-term failure to reduce the risks’ of brain injury. 

Among other findings and recommendations, the DCMS say:

  • There is no overall responsibility within sports to mandate minimum standards for concussion
  • The Government should set up a UK-wide minimum standard definition for concussion which all sports must follow
  • The Health and Safety Executive should work with sports to establish a national framework for the reporting of sporting injuries
  • UK Sport should pay for a medical officer at every major sporting event

This call for change comes after Sportsmail launched our campaign, spearheaded by Sutton, who gave evidence to MPs, to fight for football to finally tackle its dementia problem.

 The DCMS say in their investigation they are ‘astounded’ by sport being left to regulate itself

With the report, DCMS chair Julian Knight said: ‘We’ve been shocked by evidence from athletes who suffered head trauma, putting their future health on the line in the interests of achieving sporting success for the UK. 

‘What is astounding is that when it comes to reducing the risks of brain injury, sport has been allowed to mark its own homework.

‘The Health and Safety Executive is responsible by law, however risk management appears to have been delegated to the national governing bodies, such as the FA. That is a dereliction of duty which must change.

A call for action to address the ‘long-term failure’ over brain injuries was made by the DCMS 

‘The failure by these sporting organisations to address the issue of acquired brain injury is compounded by a lack of action by Government. Too often it has failed to take action on player welfare and instead relied on unaccountable sporting bodies.

‘As concerning is grassroots sport with mass participation where we’ve found negligible effort to track brain injuries and monitor long-term impacts.’ 

Judith Gates, the founder of Head for Change, the charity pioneering positive change for brain health in sport, told Sportsmail: ‘Now is the time for all involved, governing bodies and not-for-profit organisations, independent researchers and dementia care experts, educators and coaches, to come together to create a solution.

DCMS chair Julian Knight said they were shocked by evidence from athletes with head trauma

‘If we don’t make the required changes now, then when will they be made?

‘Head for change is committed to be part of the solution. We would like to work with anyone and everyone who shares that commitment. We hope that the DCMS report will provide the tipping point that we have a long needed.’

An FA spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the Select Committee’s report and will work through the recommendations with the relevant stakeholders.’


The DCMS backed several demands put to football’s governing bodies by Sportsmail in our seven-point charter last November:

1 – Increased funding from the FA and PFA for independent research into dementia and its links to football.

  • Achieved (FA put out a new call for more research this year) and backed by DCMS.

2 – The PFA to provide respite for families and carers of former professional footballers living with dementia.

  • Achieved (Sportsmail has spoken to families of former footballers who are now receiving help from the players’ union).

3 – The PFA to appoint a dedicated ‘dementia team’ and work with, promote and financially assist Alzheimer’s Society’s Sport United Against Dementia campaign and Dementia Connect support line.

  • Achieved (Dawn Astle and Rachel Walden agreed to work with the PFA on an initial six-month advisory basis).

4 – The PFA to help fund regular social events for people living with dementia and their carers.

  • Achieved (the PFA Charity has partnered with the Sporting Memories Foundation).

5 – Dementia to be formally recognised as an industrial disease.

  • Still campaigning, backed by DCMS.

6 – Football’s lawmakers, IFAB, to ratify temporary concussion replacements.

  • Still campaigning.

7 – Clubs to limit heading at all levels. Maximum of 20 headers per session in training. Minimum 48 hours between sessions.

  • Awaiting new rules for this season.

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