Brazilian soccer star Bellini, who, along with Pele, lead Brazil to World Cup victories in 1958 and 1962, did not die of Alzheimer’s, as originally thought in March. Instead, the 83-year-old was diagnosed posthumously this month with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease that’s been linked to repeated concussions, The New York Times reports. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University and the Bedford Veterans Administration Medical Center, made the new diagnosis, and noted Bellini’s case as only the second confirmed case of CTE in a soccer player, a disease most often associated with American football and at the center of an NFL settlement with former players.
“I think there’s been a perception that the non-helmeted sports are somehow less likely or less prone to these kinds of diseases,” McKee told the New York Times. “There was also a time when people said CTE was only an American problem. I think we are learning that, in both cases, those things aren’t true and this is a problem that is going to be seen around the world.”
The latest revelation adds another log to the fire of growing accusations that contend FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body, has not done enough to protect athletes from concussions. Criticism of FIFA reached an all-time high during and directly after the 2014 World Cup when athletes appeared to play while concussed. The issue even drew concern from American soccer parents, who brought a class-action lawsuit against FIFA in hopes of getting the organization to change its concussion protocols.
FIFA might finally be catching on to the uproar. On Tuesday, around the same time the information emerged about Bellini, FIFA officials announced an update to the organization’s concussion protocol. FIFA’s executive committee said it will confirm a proposal that: 1) gives referees the power to halt play for up to three minutes while a player is being evaluated for a head injury; and 2) leaves the decision about whether the player can continue in the game entirely up to the team doctor, the Associated Press reports. Previously, the injured player, who may not be able to think straight, could decide for him or herself whether to re-enter the match.
“The incidents at the World Cup have shown that the role of team doctors needs to be reinforced in order to ensure the correct management of potential cases of concussion,” FIFA said in a statement (via the AP). “The referee will only allow the injured party to continue playing with the authorization of the team doctor, who will have the final decision.”