Reaction to calls to ban contact in youth rugby

Headway and World Rugby have shared their thoughts following a piece in the BMJ calling to ban “harmful contact” from rugby games.

  In the BMJ opinion piece, authors Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood from the Institute of Health at Newcastle University said: “We call on CMOs (chief medical officers) to act on the accumulating evidence and advise the UK government to put the interests of the child before the interests of corporate professional rugby unions and remove the tackle and other forms of harmful contact from the school game.” The paper said that the few studies which compare youth injury rates between sports show higher rates of injury for collision sports than for non-collision contact sports. It also referenced studies from Australia and New Zealand that show injury levels in youth rugby and said rule changes in collision sports can make a difference (referencing rule changes in ice hockey in Canada). Calling for the removal of collision from school rugby the paper stated: “Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 19) governments have a duty to protect children from risks of injury and to ensure the safety of children, which is why we are calling on CMOs to act now.” In July 2016 UK CMOS rejected the call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby. The new paper has caused mixed reactions. Some academics/organisations have said that concussion evidence remains inconclusive while others argue that participating in contact sports is more beneficial than living a sedentary lifestyle. World Rugby posted a video on the health benefits of rugby for children and said in terms of paediatric presentations in hospital sports injuries “pale into insignificance” in comparison to accidental levels of injury. Headway provided a cautious reaction to the calls, welcoming the research but stopping short of backing calls for a complete ban on contact rugby in schools. It said: “The charity believes the focus must remain on better coaching and greater awareness of concussion, while calling for other key measures to be introduced such as mandatory concussion training for both PE and classroom teachers.” Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, provided a full statement on the charity’s website. The BMJ opinion piece and resulting debate was covered by most UK national press including the Telegraph, Independent, BBC and Guardian. Professor Allyson Pollock also appeared on television programme Good Morning Britain discussing the research with Piers Morgan.
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