2 Mar 2016

Doctors call for ban on tackling in school rugby

More than 70 doctors and health experts urge the government to ban tackling in school rugby because of the risk of serious injury to under-18s.

They want the traditional game replaced by touch rugby and non-contact rugby in schools.

In an open letter to ministers and chief medical officers, they describe rugby as a “high-impact collision sport” and say the risks of injuries to under-18s “are high and injuries are often serious”.

The letter says contact rugby is compulsory in many secondary schools from the age of 11 and that most injuries occur during “contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum”.

It adds: “These injuries, which include fractures, ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries and head injuries, can have short-term, life-long, and life-ending consequences for children.”

The letter says concussion is a common injury, with a risk of depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities.

It also says injuries can result in “significant time loss from school” and criticises the government’s drive to increase the playing of rugby in English state schools.

‘Catastrophic risk of injury’

One of the signatories, Professor Allyson Pollock from Queen Mary University of London, said: “Children are being left exposed to serious and catastrophic risk of injury.

“As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK and Irish governments should ensure the safety of rugby, by removing the contact from the children’s game in schools.”

Prof Pollock, a prominent public health doctor, became interested in rugby safety after her son Hamish was badly injured while playing the sport as a 14-year-old.

He ended up concussed after his cheekbone was shattered during a collision with another player’s knee.

She was told by doctors that his injuries were akin to what happened to people when they were propelled through windscreens in car crashes. Hamish had also broken a leg playing rugby the previous year.

Another teenage rugby player, Ben Robinson, from Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, died in 2011 after suffering concussion in a collision.

‘High quality coaching’

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) said that “high quality coaching, officiating, medical support and appropriate player behaviour” helped to reduce the risk of injury.

It said rugby in English schools or clubs could be played as either a contact or a non-contact sport.

An RFU spokesman said young players were being given longer to master the basics of the game before contact was introduced.

The Department for Education said it expected schools to “be aware of the risks associated with sporting activities and to provide a safe environment for pupils”.

A spokesman said: “PE and sport can help ensure that all young people realise their potential and is an important part of our commitment to preparing children for life in modern Britain.”