Doctors urge schools to ban tackling in rugby

They are calling for a ban on tackling in rugby matches played in UK and Irish schools.

In an open letter to ministers, more than 70 doctors and academics say injuries from this "high-impact collision sport" can have lifelong consequences for children. They argue two thirds of injuries in youth rugby and most concussions are down to tackles and urge schools to move to touch and non-contact rugby. Supporters say rugby builds character and other forms are less challenging. The concerns have been raised as a seven-year programme headed by the Rugby Football Union is on target to introduce rugby to a million children in state schools across England. The RFU's programme, which began in 2012 and is running until 2019, has so far reached 400 schools, with 350 to follow. But, in their letter to ministers, chief medical officers and children's commissioners in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, doctors say the risks for players aged under 18 are high. You can find out more about concussion and the effects here.  They say many secondary schools in the UK deliver contact rugby as a compulsory part of the physical education curriculum from the age of 11. "The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum," the letter says. "These injuries, which include fractures, ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries and head injuries can have short-term, lifelong and life-ending consequences for children." The doctors say concussion is a common injury, and they highlight a link between "repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities". One of the signatories of the open letter is Prof Allyson Pollock, from Queen Mary University of London, who has long campaigned about the dangers of rugby. She said evidence collected over 12 years showed rugby players up to the age of 18 or 19 had a 28% chance of getting injured over a season of 15 matches. "If you're thinking of a million children playing every year with this risk of injury you're looking at 300,000 extra injuries a year, including up to 100,000 concussions," she said. She added that 90% of injuries resulted in more than seven days lost from school. There are various forms of touch or tag rugby, in which tackles are replaced by touching a player or removing a tag from their clothing. Aspects of rugby such as scrums and rucks are also excluded from these forms of the game.
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