Tackling in children’s sport defended as new report links head impacts and brain disease

Portrait on a man, Dr Alan Pearce, in a suit with a blurred background behind.

Sporting industry leaders have defended tackling in junior sport despite a new study linking the risk of head impacts with degenerative brain disease.

Key points:

  • Industry leaders have responded to a new study linking head impacts in sport to degenerative brain disease
  • Authors of the report suggest a ban on tackling in junior sport to reduce the risk for kids
  • Tackling is set to stay, but with a focus on teaching it safely

The Harvard University report found millions of children were exposed to repetitive head impacts through sport participation, noting the demographic was too young to know of potential long-term risks associated with the exposure.

One of the authors is Australian concussion expert Alan Pearce, who said there was conclusive evidence of the link between the risk of head impacts and the neurodegenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The study calls for sporting bodies to think about modifications for junior athletes.

The researchers are also calling for repetitive head impacts and CTE among children to be treated like exposure to lead, mercury, smoking and sunburn.

Their research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.

“We looked at different sports with different characteristics, and they were all showing a similar thing,” Dr Pearce said.

“Anyone who engages in repetitive head trauma … they get CTE where you don’t see it in random populations of people.

“We know there’s causative action here and that’s why we want sports around the world to think strongly about this.”

Portrait on a man, Dr Alan Pearce, in a suit with a blurred background behind.
Alan Pearce encourages kids to play non-contact sports until the age of 14.(Supplied)

Tackling needs to be taught

Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians president Mark Fulcher said it was an overreaction to suggest a ban on tackles in children’s sport.

Author: Ivan Robinson