Women and girls are doubly at risk of suffering concussions and brain injuries from playing football compared to men and boys, head injury specialist Willie Stewart has said.
Members of the United Kingdom's parliament were told by Stewart, who is a consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow, that sportsmen were being prioritised in the provision of medical care and research.
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"While the rules for women's and men's football are exactly the same, the risk of concussion in women's football is about twice that as men's football," Stewart said.
"So the risk of brain injury is double. And that repeats itself through rugby and various other sports where the rules are exactly the same. We definitely have a concern about what the long-term consequences that might be. If you're twice as high risk of developing a symptomatic brain injury, what does that mean many years down the line? We really need to get ahead with that research."
Stewart was speaking to the parliamentary committee who opened an inquiry into concussions in sport after a legal action was launched by a group of former rugby players who have been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
The inquiry was also further prompted by research which showed that professional footballers are 3.5 times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disease.
However, Stewart criticised the level of research that was being done for women's sports.
"They're obviously biological differences which may contribute to the risk," he said. "We've also got some evidence that, at adolescent level, there may be a difference in mechanism of injury and also a difference in approach to management of injuries. I think we should ask questions of whether we are focusing attention in the right place.
"If a school or club has a physio or doctor available on a Saturday afternoon and there are a couple of matches on, they should be standing on the sidelines of the ladies game, because that's where the injury in terms of brain injury is going to happen. But inevitably what they're doing is standing on the sidelines of the men's game. I don't think we're giving it nearly enough attention."
Stewart also described football's trial of permanent concussion substitutes as a "shambles" and said the sport needed to follow rugby union's example where temporary substitutes are used while doctors assess a head injury.
"What football has introduced is a shambles in 2021," he said. "Rugby has made great developments, and that should be the model for other sports."
Information from Reuters contributed to this report.