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Dawn Astle welcomes inquiry into sport and brain injury

Campaigner is the daughter of ex-footballer Jeff Astle, whose death in 2002 was attributed to long-term heading of the ball

CAMPAIGNER Dawn Astle has welcomed the opening of a parliamentary inquiry into the link between playing sport and long-term brain injury, but says the issue has been “swept under the carpet” for too long.

The death of Astle’s father Jeff in 2002 was determined by a coroner to be the result of a neurodegenerative condition caused by repeated heading of a ball during his professional football career.

MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee will hear evidence from a range of individuals with a connection to the issue over the coming weeks, and Astle said it had been “a long time coming.”

“I just hope really that they leave no stone unturned,” she said.

“For millions of people around the world, we’re huge fans of the game. But for the player, it is just their job, and they should be afforded the same protection from known risks as anybody else in any other job.

“Just because they’re sportsmen shouldn’t mean it doesn’t matter, because it’s part of the game. That’s not acceptable when players are dying.”

The 2019 FIELD study, commissioned by the FA and the PFA, found professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.

Astle, who is currently supporting the PFA on an advisory basis, said that study would not have been conducted without the pressure her family placed on the authorities.

“This issue has been swept under the carpet for far too long,” she said.

“The FIELD study wasn’t done out of the goodness of the heart of the FA or the PFA; that study was done because my family wouldn’t let them sweep it under the carpet.

“It was my family who had the meeting with [former FA chairman] Greg Dyke and said ‘You need to be looking back — have we got a problem with our former players?’ And we clearly have.”

The PFA was approached for comment.

The FA welcomed opportunity to contribute to the inquiry, saying it takes the issue extremely seriously and feels it is leading the way in commissioning research into it.

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