The FAI have said that they are in discussions with UEFA and with the Associations in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England regarding the effects on children of heading footballs.
They have also said that they will monitor the impact of new ruling in the neighbouring jurisdictions which means that heading in training has now been banned for children up to the end of primary school.
FAI Interim Deputy CEO Niall Quinn said: “We are in communication with the football authorities in the UK and with UEFA on this issue. The health and safety of our schoolboys and schoolgirls is paramount and we note the decision taken in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England to ban heading in training for all players up to 12-years of age.
“Our underage players already play with a lighter ball depending on their age and we will continue to assess developments across Europe on an ongoing basis in relation to this issue.”
The FAI have pointed that as part of their 2015 Player Development Plan, children in Ireland play with footballs which are weighted dependent on their age. Up to under-8s, players play with a size-5 ball weighing 290 grams. A size-5 ball weighing 320 grams is used from under-9s to under-11s, a size-5 ball weighing 370 grams is in use up to under-14s, and players from under-15s up use a size-5 ball weighing 450 grams.
The heading ban in football training for children up to the end of primary school has been introduced with immediate effect in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The three football associations issued a statement confirming changes to their heading guidance, which come in the wake of the FIELD study which showed former footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.
The changes stated there would be no heading at all in the “foundation phase” – primary school children – and a graduated approach to heading in training in under-12s to under-16s football.
There will be no change in terms of heading in matches, taking into consideration the extremely limited number of headers that actually occur in youth games.
The FIELD study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among footballers, but the decision to update the guidelines has been taken to “mitigate against any potential risks”, the FA said in a statement.
A similar ban has been in place in the United States since 2015.
FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham said: “This updated heading guidance is an evolution of our current guidelines and will help coaches and teachers to reduce and remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football.
“Our research has shown that heading is rare in youth football matches, so this guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game.”
IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said: “Our football committee has reviewed and approved the new guidelines. As an association, we believe this is the right direction of travel and are confident it will be good for the game, and those who play it.”
Asked about the development yesterday, Ireland striker Stephanie Roche, who was speaking at a Euro 2020 schools initiative in Dublin, said: “It’s been in America for a long time, hasn’t it, but it’s a difficult one. What happens when you are 12 and you have to head the ball: are you going to be afraid to head the ball? It’s a huge part of football.
“But I do understand the medical side of it as well. I don’t know all the scientific ins and outs of it but, for me, I think if it has been proven that it damages them or it’s going to harm them, well, then, definitely it shouldn’t be done.”
She added that she sees the sense in the ban being focused on heading in training.
“I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “You might get coaches who think that if a kid can’t head a ball, then make them head the ball 25 times. That’s not going to be good for anybody.”