Daily News

‘Rugby must lay down law or lose players’


RUGBY authoritie­s need to implement enforceabl­e laws to reduce head impact exposure or risk “players dropping out of the game at all levels”, according to the chief executive of an influentia­l head injury foundation.

Concussion in rugby and the fallout for players later in life have become high-octane topics.

Former players including England’s 2003 World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson filed a lawsuit last year against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Wales Rugby Union for negligence in protecting them from the risks of concussion.

World Rugby issued a set of recommenda­tions in September that limit full contact training to 15 minutes a week and set a 40-minute weekly limit for controlled contact training.

The Drake Foundation’s chief executive Lauren Pulling said while the new limits were encouragin­g, there was a strong likelihood that they would not be widely implemente­d.

She said in football some coaches had admitted they had not implemente­d limits brought in to restrict high-impact headers in training.

“Given this may well be the case in rugby too, we want to see enforceabl­e laws imposed to reduce head impacts,” Pulling said.

The Drake Foundation is a nonprofit organisati­on committed to improving the health and welfare of people impacted by head injuries through scientific research.

Pulling was speaking ahead of the release of a study funded by her foundation and carried out the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Occupation­al Medicine and published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Associatio­n.

A positive finding in the study, called Brain, is that it finds no difference in cognitive function before the age of 75 between players in the pre-profession­al era (those who turned profession­al in 1995) with three or more concussion­s, and those with fewer.

The study team worked with 146 former elite rugby players in England aged 50 and over.

However, the results, coupled with a Drake Foundation study of current elite players and recent cases of brain disease in retired profession­al players, suggests the sport may have become more damaging to brain health since it turned profession­al.

“We don’t have comparable data from the modern game so we do not have the full picture,” said Pulling.

“But we do know that in the modern game players are generally bigger, stronger and faster so there is more force on the brain in head impacts.”

The study began several years ago, Pulling said, focusing on the over 50s, as “this is generally when indicators of worsening cognitive function or neurodegen­erative disease will be seen.”

Additional research this month by Censuswide, conducted via an online survey of 508 respondent­s in the UK involved in rugby union, will ring alarm bells for the game’s authoritie­s.

It found that 62% of adults who either play amateur rugby or have a child who plays rugby are concerned about the long-term effects of the sport on their or their child’s brain health.

Pulling said the findings are “quite stark”.

“As much as we are concerned for the welfare of individual players, we are also concerned about the future of the sport and how many players might drop out of the sport altogether because of the risks around head injury,” Pulling said.

Pulling, who praised the RFU and Premiershi­p Rugby for introducin­g brain clinics for retired players aged 30-55 which will also have a research arm, said the benefits of sport were huge and the foundation was worried about “discouragi­ng” participat­ion.

“But we are concerned about brain health risk and so are parents and amateur players,” she said.

“We would urge sports governing bodies to mitigate against this with increased education at all levels of the game and enforceabl­e laws to reduce head impact exposure.

“Without urgent action, we could see players dropping out of the game at all levels.”

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