Call for ban on tackling in children's rugby

Experts warn young players ‘particularly vulnerable to concussive injuries’

Photo of rugby girls during the game

Tackling in children’s rugby should be banned to prevent life-changing head injuries, a group of academics warned.

In a plea to the country’s chief medical officers the group called for the ban, highlighting that as a youthful brain is still growing it is “particularly vulnerable” to injury.

A number of former rugby professionals are currently pursuing legal action over concussion-related health problems, alleging negligence by a number of sports' governing bodies.

Academics from Oxford Brookes, Newcastle and Winchester universities wrote an open letter to all four chief medical officers in the UK calling for an end to tackling for school-aged children.

"We are concerned that in failing to act to protect children from the tackle in the school game and by allowing the sport's governing bodies to decide what, if any, information to collect, the British government is exposing children to significant risk," the letter said.

The academics refer to research by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) that they say highlights the lack of evidence for any "discernible physical health benefits" from full-contact rugby compared with non-contact forms of the game.

epa08870575 (FILE) - England's Steve Thompson (C) runs the ball away from the French defence during the second Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and France at Telstra Stadium in Sydney 16 November 2003 (re-issued 08 December 2020). According to media reports 08 December 2020, Thompson is one of eight former players who are in the process of bringing legal proceedings against rugby's governing bodies for what they see as negligence and failure to protect the players. All eight have been diagnosed with early signs of dementia which they consider a result of repeated blows to the head during their playing career.  EPA/DAVE HUNT  AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT *** Local Caption *** 00085714

"Concern about injuries and traumatic brain injury in youth sport is of growing international concern, including in rugby union and rugby league," the letter said.

"It is now well-established that young players under the age of 18 are particularly vulnerable to concussive injuries because of the maturing and the dynamic neurophysiological state of the adolescent brain. The situation whereby the RFU determine the rules of play for children, including in schools, cannot continue.”

Concussion and head injuries are also being scrutinised in other sports, with moves under way to ban or limit heading in children's football.

Adam White, Oxford Brookes lecturer in sport and coaching science, said urgent action was needed to protect youngsters playing rugby.

"Over the last few weeks we have heard the terrible news of ex-professional players who are suffering with the effects of concussions and sub-concussions on their brains," he said.

"We must now do everything we can to protect our children from suffering from the same mistakes."

A group of nine former professional players, including England's 2003 World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson, are involved in a lawsuit against the game’s authorities.

Another former England player Michael Lipman and former Wales international Alix Popham are involved in the action, according to a legal team at Rylands Law.

The claim is against World Rugby, the RFU and the Welsh Rugby Union for "failure to protect (the claimants) from the risks caused by concussions".