Is this the end of rugby as we know it?

I do not profess to be a sporting expert, or even enthusiast, but growing up with an Irish father I have been trained to be a keen follower of the Six Nations. Rugby, often somewhat bizarrely seen as the gentlemanly sport, brings people together with sometimes less furore than football. However, both have been in the spotlight in the last few months, with the safety of players and their long term brain health at the forefront.

In the summer, new guidance was introduced for professional and amateur footballers to reduce the number of headers allowed in training and in use during a game. This followed an investigation into the impact of this move on the long term brain health of football players and a potential link to brain damage was raised. 

Following the review into the use of "headers" in football, today's news highlights a group of former Rugby players seeking compensation for brain damage caused during their rugby careers. Many of the claimants are now suffering from early onset dementia and other "neurological complications".

This topic came up at a recent APIL conference, with a leading QC noting that in no other area of day to day life would we happily let our children engage in activities where their heads were so vulnerable to impact.

We do not necessarily automatically associate sport which has such good healthy links from exercise and group participation, with the potential for long term brain damage. With cycling, helmets are recommended but not mandatory, but there has been very little guidance or monitoring to date for football or rugby players on the impact of the sport on brain health.

Whilst I hope these cases and the concurrent reviews undoubtedly being undertaken by the governing bodies do not prevent ongoing enjoyment of the sport, I will watch with interest to see what changes are suggested or introduced to protect the players from potential brain damage.


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