MPs were accused of giving Gordon Taylor an easy ride over the Professional Footballers’ Association’s record on dementia research and support.
Outgoing PFA chief executive Taylor gave evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into concussion in sport at his own request, but campaigners such as Dawn Astle and Chris Sutton felt the MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee failed to ask the key questions.
The committee even veered off topic completely at times, asking Taylor about the Super League and the possibility of a takeover at Arsenal. Its chair, Julian Knight, also claimed Alan Shearer had refused a request to appear before it and accused the former England striker of lacking personality.
Astle has campaigned for stricter guidelines on heading and for greater research after the death of her father Jeff Astle, the former West Brom and England forward, in 2002. A coroner ruled that his death was the result of industrial disease caused by repetitive heading.
She tweeted during the hearing: “Oh, here we go , back to owners and the super league. This is a complete joke. But our Gordon’s back to being his fluent best. #comfortable.
“The total lack of respect shown towards all those players and to all those families having to watch their loved one die, completely stripped of all dignity and human nature, and those in need of some sort of closure, is beyond words. Shame on you.”
Sutton, whose father Mike – like him a former professional – suffered with dementia prior to his death last December, added on Twitter: “DCMS now asking Gordon Taylor about the European Super League on a concussion and brain injury discussion after not asking questions they should have. What an absolute farce…”
Taylor, who leaves the PFA this summer after serving as its chief executive since 1981, told MPs that research into the possible link between repetitive heading or concussion with an increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders was “a serious issue” that the PFA was “giving serious attention to”.
The PFA wrote to the committee to outline its funding in this area, pointing out that it and its charity had spent £1.82million on supporting members diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder, while it and the union’s charity had committed £616,000 to research so far.
He was asked to respond to the claims of Professor Willie Stewart, the leader of the influential 2019 FIELD study which identified an increased risk of death due to neurodegenerative disease among footballers, that football’s approach to concussion was “a shambles”.
Taylor said: “I would not agree that it is a shambles, that is a ridiculous thing to say.”
Asked if he had any regrets in this area, Taylor added: “I wish we had managed to unlock the key. When you say there is nothing at all (more) that we would have done…We are doing our best.”
He said it was “unfair” to suggest his union had been slow to act, or “asleep at the wheel” as Knight put it.
“I am perfectly happy to show everyone what we have done, what we are doing and what we intend to do,” Taylor said.
“We have never been asleep on it.
“It needs more than just the PFA to be involved in this, it needs Government as well to realise the seriousness of dementia and how it’s affecting more people, irrespective of whether they have played football.”
He was asked to respond to Sutton’s comment that Taylor had “blood on his hands”.
“It’s a very emotive subject. I try to explain, he (Sutton) was offered help with regard to his father,” Taylor said.
“He’s also been offered to come in and see what we’re doing, see what we have done, and see what we plan to do in the future and the same with other families who are suffering.
“I’m always prepared to put my head above the parapet because what we do needs to be transparent and needs to be out there.”
Taylor said it was “disrespectful” that the PFA and other sports player associations had not been invited to concussion round tables hosted by the DCMS department, which began earlier this year.
“To ignore the player associations…You would have thought it was the first call to make rather than the very last,” he said.
Alan Shearer refused to appear before the parliamentary inquiry into concussion in sport, according to the DCMS committee chair (Lindsey Parnaby/PA)
A DCMS spokesperson said: “We’re committed to improving our understanding of head injuries in sport to help prevent the risk to elite and grassroots players.
“We have held summits to listen to the concerns of both players and experts and have called on governing bodies and health professionals to make swift progress with a united approach.”
The influential 2017 documentary film ‘Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me’ was discussed at one stage in the hearing, after which Knight said: “I’ve never heard the term ‘Alan Shearer’ and ‘personality’ used in the same sentence.
“He did, of course, refuse to appear when asked before this committee so I think that says a lot.”
Shearer’s representatives have been contacted for comment.