Former professional footballers who develop dementia that may be linked to heading balls should be entitled to welfare support, a Labour councillor has said.

Martin McElroy believes diseases such as Alzheimer's in ex-players should be recognised as an industrial injury.

A study led by Glasgow University prompted the SFA to recommend that children under the age of 12 should not head footballs.

Research published in 2019 involving thousands of ex-players and examining the risk of headers found that former players had a five-fold increase in Alzheimer’s disease, a four-fold increase in motor neurone disease, and a two-fold increase in Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Willie Stewart, who led the study, also said that assumptions that a lighter ball makes neurodegenerative disease less common than it used to be are misplaced, saying it is the speed rather than the weight that is significant.

READ MORE: Billy McNeill fund launched to help former players affected by dementia 

Cllr McElroy, who is standing for Holyrood in the Glasgow Provan seat, told the Sunday Mail that he wants the First Minister to set up a working group which could lead to payments being made to former players if they develop dementia.

He said:"For several years, evidence has been growing that there is a causal link between former professional footballers and conditions such as dementia.

“With Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) being devolved, we have the opportunity to make welfare policy that responds to the latest evidence and delivers for those who need help now.

“Lengthy court cases and employment tribunals will only prolong the anxiety and suffering of those affected.

"By taking a different approach at this stage, we can agree what needs to be done to deliver justice these players and their families.”

"Classifying neurodegenerative diseases in former professionals as an industrial related disease is, in my view, simply a matter of time. But time is the one thing those suffering do not have.

“We must begin work now to ensure that those who have been put at risk because of their unsafe workplace will be treated with dignity and respect by a welfare system that meets their needs.”

READ MORE: Covid leading to increase in numbers diagnosed with dementia amid growing evidence virus 'attacks the brain' 

His campaign has been backed by Fraser Wishart, Chief Executive of PFA Scotland, a trade union for professional footballers, which provides some financial support to ex-players in England.

He said: “We fully support the campaign for neurodegenerative disease in footballers to be recognised as an industrial injury.

"Recent research has shown that compared to their peers in the general population, footballers are five times more likely to get Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

“These are worrying statistics and prove beyond a doubt that these injuries come from the workplace as a result of repetitive and excessive heading of the ball throughout their careers.”

The GMB trade union, which represents coaches and managers, has launched a survey to identify how many former players are potentially impacted.

READ MORE: 'To us he was just dad': McNeill family tell of pride after dementia fund launched in his honour 

The Herald revealed in January last year that a new fund was to be launched in honour of Celtic legend Billy McNeill to provide financial aid and therapeutic supports to former players.

McNeill died on April 22, 2019 at the age of 79, nine years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which his widow, Liz, believes was linked to “his forte” of heading footballs during his playing days.

Martyn McNeill, Billy’s son, said: "There is a generation of footballers with dementia, there is a higher rate and it has now been statistically proven and they need help."