Rugby union must take ‘drastic action’ to counter the risk of degenerative brain disease among its players, a lobby group has warned, or risk the sport’s reputation being ‘damaged beyond repair’.
Progressive Rugby made the claim as it prepared to submit evidence in legal proceedings brought by former players against World Rugby, Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union. The case, brought by 185 former professionals, was due to appear in court on Monday.
A joint statement released by the three governing bodies emphasized their commitment to player welfare.
“We care deeply about all of our players, including ex-players, and never stand still when it comes to welfare,” he said. “Our strategies to prevent, identify and manage traumatic brain injury are driven by a passion to protect our players and based on the latest science, evidence and advice from independent experts.” Momentum is building towards addressing concussions and rugby-associated illnesses, with Progressive Rugby set to release what it sees as a comprehensive manifesto to overhaul the sport.
“While we are not involved in the litigation, we are deeply saddened to see the large number of players taking legal action over neurological issues which they believe are related to their playing time,” said the organization.
“Progressive Rugby is finalizing a comprehensive list of essential player welfare requirements for submission to World Rugby. We believe delay is no longer an option and drastic action must be taken at all costs urgency to ensure that the reputation of rugby union is not damaged beyond repair.
The complaints that form the basis of the class action, led by law firm Rylands, include a central allegation that World Rugby, the RFU and the WRFU failed to properly educate and protect players from health risks. health when the sport turned professional in 1995. Other complaints relate to a subsequent failure to mitigate risk, including the controversial ‘withdrawal’ period for players who suffered an apparent concussion and an alleged lack MRI examinations.
Former Wales captain Ryan Jones was recently diagnosed with dementia praecox. He joins others including Wales international Alix Popham, former England flanker Michael Lipman and England 2003 World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson, who were all diagnosed in their 40s with early dementia.
Former Pontypool, Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd winger Lenny Woodard, who also represented Wales in rugby league, was diagnosed with dementia praecox last year. The 46-year-old said he had suffered five to 10 serious head injuries in his career and numerous other ‘sub-concussions’ but always put pressure on himself to stay on field.
“If I leave a game and someone comes into the team, takes my position and plays incredibly well, they’ll keep the position,” he said. “If it happens in March and I try to get a contract for the following season, it’s an interesting situation where you have a mortgage and children.
“Coaches also want their best team on the pitch, so you constantly ask: am I doing my best? Am I doing my best for the team? Sometimes it’s not the same answer and I think that decision should be taken away from the players.
Woodard said he joined the lawsuit because he wanted a “line in the sand” to be drawn under past practices. “On a personal level, I want to make the game safer and, although I’m not personally looking for financial gain for myself, what I’m looking to do is make sure that my children and my partner won’t have to pay any treatment I have as a result of this.
“I think there’s a lot of negativity around it, with some former players saying we’re ruining the game, but ultimately it’s not fair for my kids to have to bear the brunt of looking after them. me because I made the decision to play rugby 30 to 40 years earlier.