New study finds ‘conclusive’ proof contact-sports athletes 68 times more likely to develop CTE

New research claims to have found “conclusive evidence” that repetitive head impacts can cause degenerative brain disease, with leading sports organisations urged to acknowledge the analysis by world-leading experts.

An international team of experts have issued a global call for further chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) prevention and mitigation efforts to be brought in, especially for children.

Researchers from Oxford Brookes University and 12 other academic institutions produced the study, with analysis provided by Concussion Legacy Foundation UK.

It found that the brain banks of the US Department of Defence, Boston University-US Department of Veterans Affairs and Mayo Clinic have all published independent studies showing that contact-sport athletes were at least 68 times more likely to develop CTE than those who did not play any contact sport.

Dr Chris Nowinski, lead author of the study and chief executive at Concussion Legacy Foundation, said: “This innovative analysis gives us the highest scientific confidence that repeated head impacts cause CTE.

“Sport governing bodies should acknowledge that head impacts cause CTE and they should not mislead the public on CTE causation while athletes die, and families are destroyed, by this terrible disease.”

Dr Adam J White, senior lecturer in sport and coaching sciences at Oxford Brookes University and executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation UK, said: “This analysis shows it is time to include repetitive head impacts and CTE among other child safety efforts like smoking, sunburns, and alcohol.

“Repetitive head impacts and CTE deserve recognition in the global public health discussion of preventable disorders caused by childhood exposure in contact sports like football, rugby, ice hockey and others.”

The research paper, ‘Applying the Bradford Hill Criteria for Causation to Repetitive Head Impacts and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy’, has been published in Frontiers in Neurology, and it is hoped it can force global sporting organisations such as Fifa and World Rugby into acknowledging there is a causal link between CTE and repetitive head impacts.

Earlier this month the Football Association announced it would start a trial to remove heading in selected grassroots competitions and leagues.

Rugby, meanwhile, has seen a number of players show signs of early-onset dementia and on Monday lobby group Progressive Rugby said it was finalising a comprehensive list of player welfare critical requirements it would submit to the likes of World Rugby and the Rugby Football Union.