Outlaw tackling in school rugby, say scientists

July 18, 2017

A team of experts at Newcastle University have reignited the long-running controversy over tackling in school rugby, asserting that the risk of sustaining serious injuries is large enough to warrant a blanket ban on the practice.

The report, released this week, claimed that stricter safeguards were needed to enhance children’s safety when playing the game. The researchers warned that the injuries adolescent rugby players are likely to be at risk of include concussion. In April, Dr Willie Stewart of World Rugby’s Independent Concussion Advisory Group told BBC Sport that existing concussion reviews in rugby were ‘not fit for purpose’.

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the Newcastle researchers’ report is a response to an earlier article by World Rugby’s Ross Tucker and others which insisted that the risk of sustaining injuries in rugby was not disproportionate compared to other sports. The Newcastle study revisited earlier evidence on the subject and its authors say the risk of serious harm is higher than previously thought.

“We need to act now to protect our children from injuries from collision sports. Our evidence shows the high injury rate in rugby for children across all age groups,” said lead author Prof Allyson Pollock. “There is also a consensus that collision sports including rugby have higher rates of injury than non-collision contact sports such as football. Rugby has the highest rate of concussion out of any youth sport.”

Prof Pollock also pointed out that new rule changes had been introduced for youth ice hockey in Canada to reduce the risk of injury. The Newcastle researchers cite the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in support of their call for a ban, calling on governing bodies to do more to minimise ‘avoidable harm’.

This is, of course, a discussion which has raged on for some time. Last year, over 70 doctors and health experts signed an open letter which also called for a blanket ban on tackling in school rugby. The letter noted that the ‘majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum’ and warned that the injuries children can sustain while playing the game ‘can have short-term, life-long and life-ending consequences for children’.

The World Rugby report – also published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine – to which the Newcastle study is a response had however suggested that a ban on tackling in school rugby could lead to an increased risk of injury >.

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