Former champion jump jockey Richard Dunwoody is among the first volunteers for a research project examining the long-term effects of concussion on competitors in sports.
The study, Concussion in Sport, seeks to establish whether retired sportsmen and sportswomen have an increased incidence, or suffer an earlier onset, of neuro-degenerative disorders.
Dunwoody said: “It was accepted we would suffer concussion but we gave little thought to the long-term effects of repetitive head injuries.”
The 52-year-old, who won the jockeys’ title three times in a 17-year career ended in 1999 by a neck injury, added: “This is an important research project, not only for racing, but for all sports.
“It will be of great benefit to establish the facts regarding the effects of concussion and to be able to minimise risks for athletes in the future.”
The initial screening process will focus on retired jockeys.
Former champion jockeys Sir Tony McCoy, Peter Scudamore, John Francome and Stan Mellor, whose sport has the highest recorded rates of concussion, have also volunteered for screening.
Funding and support for the project, which will subsequently extend to all sports where concussion is a recognised risk, has come from a range of sources, including the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF), racehorse owners Godolphin and American football’s NFL, as well as private backers.
The International Concussion Head Injury Research Foundation is the European wing of a collaboration between existing projects in Australia, Switzerland and the USA.
The ICHIRF was founded in 2014 by Dr Michael Turner, the former chief medical adviser to British Horseracing, who now holds that position with the Lawn Tennis Association. He will lead the research project.
Dr Turner said: “For the first time, a state-of-the-art, controlled, multi-sport research study will look exclusively at concussion in European sportsmen and women, starting with a detailed study of over 200 former jockeys.
“Through impartial, objective analysis of a significant pool of data, we will seek to establish whether there is any correlation between repeated concussion and long-term damage to the brain.”
Boxing and rugby union on board
The project also has the backing of former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan and England World Cup-winning rugby union coach Sir Clive Woodward.
Woodward said: “Concussion has now become a major concern for all contact sports. Only through high-quality, independent research can we uncover the true facts surrounding this complicated condition.”
Retired sportsmen and women from other sports are being invited to enrol in the Concussion in Sport research, along with members of the public who have never had a concussion to contribute to the study as the ‘control group’.