Former Republic of Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham has joined Gary Breen in calling for children under 12 years of age to be banned from heading the ball.
On Monday, English, Scottish and Northern Irish football associations announced an immediate ban on children under the age of 12 from heading the football, and restrictions for those aged between 12 and 17 following a report linking the sport to dementia.
Speaking on Tuesday morning’s OTB AM, Cunningham said that he has been considering the topic ever since the US Soccer Federation implemented a similar policy.
“I must admit that when it was first mooted initially my first reaction was, ‘another crazy idea. How can you possibly play this game without heading a football? It’s a wonderful facet of our game,’” said Cunningham.
“But the more data that comes out and you take the time to look at it and just give it thought really.
“Some of the personal stories that are coming out - even sadly some players you’ve played with - you think to yourself, ‘there’s an argument to be made here,’” the former Ireland defender said.
Cunningham said his reasoning behind supporting the ban was the fact young children’s bodies and, crucially, their brains are still developing and the risk of repetitively heading the football risks that development.
“Until a time when more detailed data comes out over the next two, five or 10 years, there should be more action,” he said.
“I think there should be until we get a grip on the effects of the constant repetition of heading the football.
“But in the meantime, you’ve got to err on the side of caution undoubtedly when it comes to the younger players. So restricting their time with the ball in training sessions is certainly the way forward,” Cunningham said.
Despite there being no data to link dementia and football yet, the FA, SFA and IFA have taken action because they feel they have a duty of care towards their youth football players and their families.
Cunningham thinks the FAI should assess all the available information and then make the right decision.
“I wouldn’t necessarily go as far to say, ‘the FA are doing it so we need to do it too. [But] I expect the FAI to follow and it does make sense I must admit,” he said.