Too many rugby injuries in youths is causing concern

I am first in line in promoting the positive effects of sports and team playing in children and fully back the government’s pledge to increase the prominence of competitive sports. I have spent many a rainy day on the playing fields shouting words of encouragement — much to the embarrassment of my sons — during football matches. But Rugby. Well here I am not so sure.

Yes I am, or was a rugby mum. Married to a rugby fanatic. But long hours in A & E, anxious hours waiting for X Ray results,  plaster casts and crutches  and various bits of metal now living inside my son’s limbs have sent out warning bells about just how safe is this sport   — especially for children.

I am not alone Professor Allyson Pollock, of Queen Mary University of London   — also a former Rugby mum — believes that youngsters are regularly harmed playing the sport and she feels that the levels of injury are not being properly monitored. She said that the figures showed that one in eight children suffer an injury serious enough to be kept of the pitch for seven days in a season.

Her book ‘Tackling Rugby: What Every Parent Should Know’ prompted by the injury of her elder son, Hamish, who sustained concussion and a broken cheekbone while playing schoolboy rugby, investigates the risks of the game and she found them to be so alarming that she stopped her younger boy, Hector, from playing contact rugby.

“Given that children are more susceptible to injuries such as concussion and often take longer to fully recover, the government’s plan to increase competitive sport is worrying,” said Prof Pollock, writing in the British Medical Journal.

Her thoughts are echoed by Michael Carter, a paediatric neurosurgeon at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. Writing in the BMJ, Mr Carter said schools encouraged aggressive play and often made children play on when they were injured.

He said a quick check with his neurosurgical colleagues had revealed they had treated 20 youngsters for brain damage related to rugby in the past decade.

“Schools, coaches, and parents all contribute to a tribal, gladiatorial culture that encourages excessive aggression, suppresses injury reporting, and encourages players to carry on when injured,” he said.

Yes Mr Carter I can concur. I have had many an argument with school and club rugby coaches about whether a child is fit to return to the game after a collision. But I have also seen an increase in schools taking responsibility to ensure that all their sports teachers and coaches are kept up to date with their first aid training.  

My family will hate this piece but really I am not calling for Rugby to be stopped I know how passionately those who play it feel about the sport just that more diligence needs to taken to ensure the safety of young children playing this sport.  Why not for example, insist that all players wear some kind of head protection.  We know that most rugby injuries occur during the tackle and that scrums are the most dangerous phase of play. So would more research into developing head protection rather than just ear protection make a difference?  I don’t know but my gut instinct tells me that if Rugby officials put their ‘heads’ together this might make a difference to the safety of the game.