Rugby’s biggest challenge?
5 October 2014
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Over the past year or so there have been a increasing number of stories and articles about the dangers of playing rugby and the injuries at professional and amateur level, in the adult and youth game. Professor Allysson Pollock wrote an article for the Daily Mail a couple of weeks ago called “Why NO mother should let her son play rugby” and was on BBC Breakfast explaining her view. I put an article published in The Guardian on my Facebook page “Is Rugby too dangerous for children” which provoked a number of thoughtful comments from members of local clubs which you can read by clicking here, but the trend of highlighting our game as one that is likely to cause serious injury is worrying.
Personally, I see it as the biggest challenge to Rugby’s future that the game faces and I know that the RFU takes the threat very seriously. Some high profile cases of concussed players staying on the field of play prompted the Headcase Campaign with advice on recognising and dealing with concussion and clear guidelines about how long players should rest for before playing again.
There is no point in denying that injuries will happen in a contact sport, but I’m not convinced that rugby has become more dangerous at community level, it’s just that people are much more aware of them. And the way to deal with it isn’t to ridicule understandably worried parents for not accepting that injuries are going to happen; there has to be a game-wide initiative to make people understand that injuries happen in nearly every sport and that rugby deals with incidents in a safer way than almost any other. Coaches receive injury and concussion awareness training, and players with the slightest sign of being concussed are removed from the game immediately and mandatory rest periods enforced. The example shown by the professional game is very important, with players not allowed to play however important they are to their team. Any parent, teacher or coach at any level not sticking to the guidelines does the player and the game serious harm.
Rugby’s most recognisable player, Jonny Wilkinson, is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that Rugby is not too dangerous and using high profile figures to spread the message is effective. But ultimately it is for grass-roots clubs and schools to convince concerned parents that rugby is one of the best sports their child can play for its inclusiveness, there is a place for everyone in a rugby team, its camaraderie, you make friends for life through the game, and for its Core Values that are unique to rugby of Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship, values that prepare children for life.
Here is a link to a video where I talk about the dangers of concussion in the community game