Former Professional Rugby Players' Lawsuits Spark Calls For Banning Collision And Contact Sports In Schools (19 March 2024)

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Recent high-profile litigation has drawn attention to the link between brain injuries and high-impact sports, sparking growing calls for action.
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Recent high-profile litigation has drawn attention to the link between brain injuries and high-impact sports, sparking growing calls for action. This has prompted discussions about the potential risks associated with collision and contact sports like rugby, with an increasing number of voices advocating for their banning in schools, universities, colleges and youth clubs.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative brain condition linked to repetitive head injuries. The condition is a serious risk linked to high impact, collision and contact sports including ruby and boxing. Whilst the correlation between brain injuries from repeated head traumas and high impact sports has long been recognised, recent high-profile litigation instigated by former professional athletes against sporting bodies have thrust the issue into the spotlight, increasing the awareness of the serious consequences associated with high-impact sports.

Over 200 retired rugby players sought a Group Litigation Order in the High Court to combine their claims into a class action against three governing bodies of the rugby union. The GLO, if allowed, would seek damages for brain injuries sustained by former rugby players during their careers. The claim alleges that governing bodies were negligent and failed to implement reasonable proportions to safeguard players from brain injuries caused by repeated blows. Some of the claimants now suffer from various neurological conditions such as CTE, epilepsy, Parkinsons's, early onset dementia and motor neuron disease. The ramifications of this legal action could have a significant impact on both sporting authorities and players, and could pave the way for a surge in similar personal injury claims.

This is not the first litigation of its kind, as similar cases in America have been well-documented. Most notably, the NFL settled a concussion lawsuit, agreeing to compensate every former athlete who developed dementia and other brain diseases as a result of concussions sustained during their careers.

Consequently, the risks of participating in contact sports highlighted in these legal actions has led to an upsurge in calls for the banning of contact sports within schools as parents, educators and policymakers have become more informed about the potential long-term health implications of allowing children to participate in contact sports.

The campaign to ban contact and collision sports in schools has been accelerated by a recent study advocating against children participating in sports where contact is a fundamental aspect of the game. The paper highlights a crucial difference between sports where brain injuries might be sustained accidentally and those like rugby and boxing, where high-contact is intrinsic to the sport itself. The risk of developing CTE is heightened in games such as ruby and boxing, and research suggests that former players of high-impact sports are more prone to developing brain diseases compared to those engaged in non-contact sports.

The importance of physical education in schools for children's health is widely acknowledged, but the banning of contact sports doesn't mean that children can no longer reap the benefits of physical activity. Prohibiting high-impact sports may lead to the promotion of alternative, non-contact versions of these sports, such as touch rugby or flag football. These adaptations allow children to experience the physical and social benefits of fitness without exposing them to the same level of risk for head injuries associated with full-contact versions.

Personal Injury expert Renu Daly said,

"This report is critical, underscoring a looming issue poised to significantly influence sports management within our schools, colleges, universities and youth clubs. The precedence set in the US, especially evident within the NFL regarding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – a degenerative brain condition linked to repeated head traumas – was a clear indicator of its imminent relevance here. CTE's progression can lead to dementia, and it's noteworthy that the NFL has compensated over 1,600 athletes with $1.2 billion.

The increasing awareness around CTE, exemplified by a significant legal case involving numerous rugby union players, highlights the urgency of this issue. It's imperative for anyone suspecting they've suffered a brain injury through school, business, or medical negligence to seek legal counsel, as such claims are now taken with utmost seriousness.

Schools, colleges, universities and youth clubs face potential liability and must meticulously consider how they safeguard students from such injuries. The recommendations outlined in this report serve as a critical alert for those involved in coaching young athletes. This encompasses comprehensive coach and staff training on concussion management, the diligent use and maintenance of safety equipment, and transparently communicating the risks of contact sports to students and parents."

We can support professional, armature and former sports players who have suffered brain injuries whilst playing collision and contact sports with personal injury claims for damages.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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