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Experts want tackle removed

11 Mar 2016


Pic: Getty Images

Open letter to Jan O’Sullivan, Minister for Education and Skills; Dr Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health; and Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport; and their counterparts in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

We, the undersigned, are sport scholars, academics, doctors, and public health professionals, who have become increasingly concerned about the harms and risks of injuries to children playing school rugby.

Our concerns are as follows. First, rugby is a high-impact collision sport. Studies show that the risks of injuries for those aged under 18 years are high and injuries are often serious. Second, many secondary schools deliver contact rugby as a compulsory part of the physical education curriculum from age 11. Third, the majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum. 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.

Fourth, head injury and concussion is a common injury and repeat concussion is more likely when a player has a history of a previous concussion. A link has been found between repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities, as well as longer term problems. Children take longer to recover to normal levels on measures of memory, reaction speed and post-concussive symptoms than adults.

Fifth, studies show that injuries from rugby can result in significant time loss from school. Rugby injury, disillusionment with the game and interference with education, are the most common reasons for children giving up rugby.

We are also concerned about the government’s plan in England to increase participation in rugby in schools. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 17), governments have a duty to inform children about risks of injury. Yet, in the absence of a comprehensive system for injury surveillance and primary prevention this cannot occur.

Also under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 19), governments have a duty to protect children from risks of injury: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment…”

As a party to the Convention, Ireland and the UK must ensure the safety of children.

These evidence-based concerns lead us to consider it necessary to remove the collision elements of the school game so that children play touch and non-contact rugby. Within your respective countries, we therefore request: a) the Chief Medical Officers to advise the Ministers and Children’s Commissioners in accordance with the evidence; b) the Children’s Commissioners to protect children from the risks of harmful contact in school rugby; and c) the Ministers to remove the tackle and other forms of harmful contact from school rugby.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Prof Eric Anderson, Professor of Sport and Masculinities; University of Winchester,
Prof Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health Research and Policy, Queen Mary University of London, and 71 other supporting signatories from the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and Sweden. To sign a petition to replace contact with touch in school rugby click here.

• See Clinical Times for more 

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Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times: Opinion