By Teg Singh

A recent report from academics have stated that ‘tackling and scrums should be banned in school’ in order to protect children from the risk of concussion and brain damage.

(Courtesy of Ballycare RFU)

(Courtesy of Ballycare RFU)

These academics have urged the Department of Heath to remove the ‘harmful’ contact on children in a recent report in the British Medical Journal. The academics, based in the University of Newcastle, have cited a number of surveys in which they have ‘proved’ that rugby is in fact more dangerous than other sports, after four chief medical officers (CMOs) rejected a similar call to ban tackling in rugby in July 2016, having stated that it was no more dangerous than other sports played in schools.

The University of Newcastle team, headed by Professor Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood, state that rugby in schools carry a high risk of injury, and that ‘Governments have a duty to protect children from risks of injury and to ensure the safety of children’.

In English school, rugby league and union are the most commonly played collision sports in the curriculum for Physical Education.

The main reason for concern is head injury, which has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which adds to the evidence that it can also lead to diseases such as Parkinson’s. Furthermore, the increasing risk of concussion leads to the ‘lowering of a person’s life chances across a range of social and educational measures’ as well as ‘an increase in violent behaviour and violent injury in adolescents’ according to studies by the University of Newcastle.

Changes of rules for sports have shown benefits, for example in Canada where the governing body for health removed ‘intentional contact’, otherwise known as ‘body-checking’, from all ice-hockey matches for under 13s, which actually led to a decrease in concussions.

As mentioned, a previous call for action had been ruled out by four CMOs, and many argue that playing rugby automatically comes with a risk which players knows of. The people who play rugby generally know the rules, and are able to play the game to a good enough level to avoid injury – otherwise they should not be playing. Likewise, individuals can buy extra protective gear, such as padding, to avoid such injury.

However, some think that it is not enough. A ban on contact in rugby would be the first set of major changes in the youth game since 2013, when scrummaging changed so that it would put less pressure on the spinal cord.

It is now in the hands of the government, but what do you think? Is change good in this case, or do old rules still work in the 21st century?