Spoilsport: Science Stops Play
Science comes head-to-head with sport as evidence grows about the vulnerability of our brains to the blows, knocks and shocks of our favourite games. Claudia Hammond investigates.
Millions of us - adults and children - play games like rugby and football every week. But concern is growing that the dangers of concussion, traumatic brain injuries, aren't taken seriously enough in contact sports.
New evidence that head knocks and head bangs could be causing an early onset dementia called CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, has sent shock waves through sport. It used to be thought that CTE, formerly known as Dementia Pugilistica, was a degenerative brain disease confined to boxers who'd spent a life-time taking punishing head injuries in the ring. But the disease has recently been discovered in the brains of an assortment of elite athletes; first an American footballer, then ice hockey players, rugby players and professional football players. It's raised real fears that playing contact sports, where concussions are a common risk, could be the cause.
Claudia Hammond talks to leading UK neurosurgeon, Dr Tony Belli, Professor of Trauma Neurosurgery at the University of Birmingham, about the short term and long term dangers of repeated concussions. And she hears from Dr Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist and head of the Glasgow Traumatic Brain Injury Archive who identified CTE in the UK's first professional football player and an elite rugby player, about his suspicions that many more sports people could, in fact, have died of CTE.
Dawn Astle, daughter of West Bromwich Albion and England footballer, Jeff Astle, describes her family's campaign to get the footballing authorities to find out how many other footballers are at risk from the sports-related dementia, CTE (her father died in 2002 after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease, but last year it was discovered he'd died of CTE). And Peter Robinson, who lost his 14 year old son, Ben, after a school rugby match, tells Claudia why he's campaigning for mandatory concussion education with the message that concussion can be fatal. Ben died of Second Impact Syndrome after he suffered three concussions during a match but was left on the pitch to play on.
Claudia Hammond investigates how sport, from grassroots upwards, needs to change to protect players, as the evidence on the risks of cumulative concussions mounts.
Producer: Fiona Hill.