Rugby player

Concussion and sport – a ticking time bomb

With the Rugby World Cup now underway debate has been sparked as to the safety of the sport and whether or not more should be being done to prevent concussion in Rugby players.

Concussion is a mild form of brain injury which regularly causes dizziness, nausea, memory and personality changes. Long term effects include depression and personality changes that can remain for many months or even years. As more and more is learned about the brain and the far reaching effects of injuring it, many players and supporters of Rugby are calling for changes.

The issue will be explored in a special Panorama programme this evening on BBC1.

The number of players suffering from concussion has risen dramatically in recent years, with one player suffering concussion at every Six Nations match. The number of reported cases in English Rugby rose by 59% between 2013 and 2014, with Scotland reporting a 100% increase in the same period. Dr James Robson, Chief Medical Officer for the Scottish Rugby Union believes this dramatic increase is due to better awareness of the dangers and symptoms, which Scottish teams having invested time in educating players, as opposed to an increased number of “incidents” during play.

Andy Hazell, former player for Gloucester, was forced to end his Rugby career as a result of concussion. He said “I’d feel light-headed and I’d be training and I’d actually feel in a dream … I was scared about what could happen. When it’s my knee and things like that I always sort of just try and push through it. But this time I was cautious – this is your brain and you can’t mess about”. When discussing the effects of his concussion he added, “I was more snappy around the family, I could feel myself becoming that person. That sort of accumulated then with the depression”.

Scientists fear that players of high contact sport could also be exposing themselves to a type of dementia called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. A team of researchers in Boston in the US are examining brains of former contact sport athletes to test the theory, but it is thought that concussion and regular trauma to the head could also lead to dementia-like symptoms. Professor Anne McKee said: “There is an absolute link between head traumas and neurodegeneration”. She added, “the lesson to world sport is I think we should stop arguing about whether or not playing sport with a lot of hits to the head is a risk for this disorder. It is.”

The sport is therefore calling for a review of the rules of the game to try and reduce head injuries. With this increase in awareness of the potential injury presented to Rugby players, the fear is that parents will discourage their children from taking part in the sport, threatening its future as one of the world’s favourites. It is important that a compromise to the way the game is played is reached to strike a balance between maintaining the soul of the game, but protecting the health of those who take part.

Of course it is a player’s choice to play Rugby, and some will no doubt argue that provided players are aware of the risks, it is their decision whether or not they wish to play. So what protection would personal injury law offer in a situation where a player was serious injured during play?

It is well established that those who willingly expose themselves to the known risks of play will have no entitlement to compensation from their club or those organising the event. Only if a player is injured as a cause of an act or circumstance that went beyond that expected of the game could a player claim, eg an assault or reckless/dangerous challenge which goes outside of the rules or laws of the game. This can be difficult to prove in Rugby which is by its very nature a high impact sport. It can therefore be difficult for players to obtain compensation to pay for rehabilitation and other support they might need as a result of being injured on the pitch. It is therefore crucial that players and their teams take responsibility to limit the risk of injury, and make the game safer.

We all hope for an exciting, but ultimately safe, Rugby World Cup.

If you or anyone you know has suffered a Personal Injury, contact one of our specialist lawyers on 0800 316 8892 to see how we can help you.