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‘Make safety guidance enforceable rules’

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Guidance around safety protocols in sport must become enforceable to ensure players are properly protected, an organisation founded to fund research into head injuries has said. 

The Drake Foundation has called for more stringent enforcement of new policies to help improve player safety, including the guidance released by the FA which recommends only ten higher force headers in training each week. 

While the Foundation – which has enabled much of the groundbreaking research around sport-related head impacts – says it welcomes the guidelines, questions around their efficacy were raised when Tottenham manager Nuno Espirito Santo admitted he did not implement the recommended limit in his training sessions, saying “I do not count how many times out players head the ball”. 

Lauren Pulling, CEO of The Drake Foundation, said urgent action needs to be taken to ensure such important safety advice has to be followed, and governing bodies need to “stop being tentative” in their approach. 

Speaking to NR Times, she said: “I think for players to feel safe, youth players going into the game to feel safe, there need to be universal enforced law changes that minimise their cumulative exposure to head impacts, not just in the game but in training as well.

“We want to see more from sports governing bodies. We’re really pleased to see recent changes to guidelines like the limit on full contact training in rugby and guidance to reduce heading in football in training in particular – but we’d question whether it could go even further. 

“I think we need to stop being tentative and go for enforced law changes rather than guidance.”

Since its inception in 2014, The Drake Foundation has funded eight pioneering research projects to provide an evidence-based understanding of the link between sport-related head impacts and long-term health outcomes. 

The majority of these projects focus on rugby and football, including HEADING, BRAIN and the Drake Rugby Biomarker Study, with a goal of affecting positive change in professional sport, which can be translated into grassroots sports settings and have benefit to wider society. 

Having been one of the first funders of research in this area, and one of the first organisations to actively push for change around head injury in sport, the Foundation believes if change is not properly implemented, there could be serious consequences for participation as well as player health. 

“Not just within elite sports, but also in the amateur and grassroots game, people tell us action needs to be taken, not just for the athletes themselves but for the future of the game,” says Lauren. 

“What does the future of sport look like if people are dropping out? We need to see some big changes to protect the players and protect the game so we don’t see another generation of this happening. 

“We try to stay with the science, we provide the evidence base upon which sports governing bodies then make informed decisions. We do want to see more from sports governing bodies and hope the guidance becomes enforceable.”

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