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Dear Sir Bill,
RE: Brain Trauma in Rugby Union
We write in response to your open letter to the rugby community on 17 December 2020.
This letter is a collaborative effort led by a new alliance of progressive voices in the game under the title ‘Progressive Rugby’.
This group includes representatives from all echelons of the game – players, coaches, match officials, club representatives, sports doctors and senior members of the teaching profession.
Both the content and sentiments of your open letter are acknowledged. However, we consider in view of the evidence of risk for traumatic brain injuries occurring in Rugby Union that more should be done to protect the rugby-playing community from the dangers of injury and that World Rugby has a moral and legal duty to minimise risk and to inform players and parents of the risk of brain damage from repeated knocks.
Evidence of the existence of brain disorders in retired players supports the contention that participation in Rugby Union can cause brain damage. The awareness of the association with traumatic brain injury and participation in Rugby Union is of paramount importance for both the players and the sport itself.
We believe that this issue is the greatest threat to the worldwide game.
Set out below are changes we argue World Rugby should facilitate to our game as a matter of urgency. These are set out in the following categories:
This list is not exhaustive, but more a launching pad towards a safer, more sustainable game. Where appropriate, we have prepared preliminary costings for these proposed changes to show that we are sensitive to the practicalities involved.
We firmly support the core physicality that comes with an 80-minute game of rugby union and understand that the game cannot be turned back to a ‘rose-tinted’ memory of the pre-professional game. Our backing extends to maintaining tackling in schoolboy rugby. However, the above proposed changes are essential to ensure the survival of the game in terms of long-term player welfare and playing numbers at all levels.
Whilst we acknowledge the importance of continuing well-constructed longitudinal prospective research, the rapidly accumulating anecdotal evidence has reached a point that the answer is to err on the side of caution. The alternative is to ‘kick the can down the road’ for future generations of administrators to deliberate upon.
The NFL has metamorphosed from a sport in denial to a proactive organisation with initiatives like concussion funding and changing protocols to the game, such as the regulation of contact in training, concussion spotters and a concussion tent at each game.
Despite the current negativity surrounding the game, there is an opportunity for rugby to turn the page and follow the example of our American cousins. The current and future generations of players require urgent action to be assured that they will be adequately protected and cared for.
As a next step, we request a chance to speak – as team-mates, not as opponents – with senior figures at World Rugby to discuss how we can work together to get control of this issue that threatens the very future of our game.