World Rugby's Chief Medical Officer Calls For Rule Changes To Protect Players’ Safety

Expert Sport Injury Lawyers Welcome Panorama Programme On Concussions

21.09.2015

With the 2015 Rugby World Cup taking place in England, and interest at a premium, specialist sport injury lawyers from Irwin Mitchell have said there is no better time to discuss the safety of players at all levels of the game.

This comes after World Rugby’s chief medical officer told the BBC’s Panorama programme that more needed to be done to make the game safer and prevent brain injuries.

Doctor Martin Raftery suggested that tackling would be the most likely focus of any changes. He said: "There's no doubt that the biggest area that we know where concussion is going to occur is in the tackle, so that will help us to look at the tackle and see what we can do to make it safer.

"My job is to identify risk and then look for solutions and then present those solutions to the law-makers to make the changes that will bring about protection of the athlete."

Concussion has been placed firmly on the sporting agenda after a number of high profile incidents in many sports, these include Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who continued to play after suffering a blow to the head and England cricketer Eoin Morgan who retired hurt after a ball struck him on the helmet.

However, the overwhelming focus is on the egg-shaped ball with reported concussions in English rugby union rising by 59% in 2013-14 and in Scotland where the figure has nearly doubled in the past two years.

Overall reported concussions in rugby union have doubled in five years and a UK expert said on average one player at every Six Nations match suffered a brain injury. Players in this World Cup have already suffered from concussions despite the tournament only starting on Friday with England’s win over Fiji.

The Panoroma programme which airs at 2030 tonight on BBC1 also investigates the possibility of repeated head knocks being linked to a type of dementia called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE symptoms include memory loss, depression, speech problems, mood changes and difficulty walking. Research has found CTE in over 100 NFL players in America, where they are also facing continual challenges to make their game safer.

Earlier this year San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired after one season because he feared his health could suffer from the long-term effects of multiple concussions. In the NFL players are protected by the use of helmets but this isn’t the case in rugby union.

Sports injury expert and specialist lawyer Ian Christian believes more should be done to educate rugby players about the potential dangers of head injuries.

Expert Opinion
“Rugby is obviously in the spotlight during the World Cup so it is right that time is taken to discuss all elements of the sport openly including the safety of players as new research comes to light.

“The tournament will no doubt inspire a new generation of young British players and we have to make sure that they are properly informed about the possible impact that head injuries and concussion can have on your body and brain.

“Tonight’s Panorama programme highlights some of the key challenges ahead and it is good to see that those responsible for governing the game understand the importance of making it safer.

"Independent doctors and Head Injury Assessments have already been introduced to assist with concussion management and there has also been a change to the scrum protocol for this tournament but this just highlights the complex range of issues in the modern game. Ultimately, more needs to be done, especially at grass roots level.

“It is always worrying to hear about concussion in any sport and experts now need to come together and share their views on the developing evidence, make changes and ultimately ensure a safer future.

“Friends and family of participants and the millions of spectators who watch around the world would enjoy rugby even more if they knew further protocols were in place to safeguard the players so there is far less chance of a serious brain injury both now and later in life.

“It is crucial that all those involved in rugby recognise the importance of preserving the game whilst protecting the players.”
Ian Christian, Partner