One player in every international rugby match suffers a brain injury a leading neuropathologist has told a parliamentary inquiry into concussion and sport.
Dr Willie Stewart, a scientist at the University of Glasgow, described the level of injury as ‘unacceptable in any shape of form’.
And he attributed the high level of damage to the increasing impact between players in the professional era of the sport.
One player suffers a brain injury in eveny international rugby match, says Dr Willie Stewart
Dr Stewart was giving evidence to the Department of Culture Media and Sport committee, which is interviewing experts and the heads of sports’ governing bodies to establish the link with neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.
The academic has done pioneering work to establish a link between football and brain disease. In the round ball game, former players are 3.5 times more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases than the general public.
However, he told MPs on Tuesday that similar research was yet available for rugby.
The scientist is a fierce critic of football’s collective response to concussion and brain injury, but he highlighted rugby as a sport that has made progress in dealing with the increasing risk.
Parliamentary inquiry in sport and brain injuries heard players are stronger and faster
Even so, Dr Stewart told the inquiry: ‘One of the things that disappoints in rugby is the concussion brain injury level. There is one brain injury per match in international rugby.
Dr Stewart said it was right to send off Scotland’s Zander Fagerson (above) for a dangerous clear-out against Wales
‘That level has stayed the same for four to five years now and that is an unacceptably high level. One in 30 going off with a brain injury per match is unacceptable in any shape or form.’
Dr Stewart acknowledged there are now stricter protocols around head-to-head contact and the use of red cards to dismiss players for poor tackles or dangerous play.
And he praised the referee’s decision to send off Scotland prop Zander Fagerson in their Six Nations defeat to Wales last month.
Fagerson, 25, was punished for a dangerous clear-out after his shoulder connected with Wyn Jones’ head at the breakdown and has been banned for four weeks, ruling him out of the rest of the competition.
The decision to send off Fagerson was considered harsh by some commentators in the game.
Fagerson connected with Wyn Jones’ head at the breakdown and was banned for four weeks
‘The only way they can address this… is to take them out of the game,’ said Dr Stewart.
Asked by MPs if he believed rugby is safe, Dr Stewart said: ‘It’s a collision sport and a contact sport. There is a risk in all contact sports.
‘In my personal view I think it could be made a lot safer. There are things that could be done to reduce risks of injury and head impact and risk of dementia further down the line. Safety could be improved.
He added: ‘It is about looking across the game not just on match day but also in training.
MPs heard that rugby has done more than football to manage the risks of head injuries
‘There is a cumulative effect of impact after impact after impact, which do not necessarily produce symptoms.
‘Let’s talk about how we reduce head impacts, and improve on our tackling and think about training during the week.’
DCMS committee member and Labour MP Kevin Brennan highlighted how the game has changed.
‘Rugby was a contact sport, now it’s a collision sport,’ he said.
‘Even in the statistics when we are discussing how a game has gone, [we talk about] dominant tackles and the collision element. [That] combined with professionalisation and bulking up of players has meant it has gone from a contact sport to a collision sport.’
Dr Willie Stewart found footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to get dementia
However, similar research linking brain disease and sport is not yet available for rugby
Dr Stewart, a keen rugby player in Glasgow when he was younger, who admits to enjoying the contact side of the game, agreed.
‘There is no doubt those of us who watch rugby have seen this,’ he said. ‘I know a lot of people who work in rugby and they are desperately wrestling with this issue.
‘On the one hand in the global business in the industry there is a revelling in the collisions and contact, but actually there has been a lot of damage to the men and women who play the game and they are desperately trying to find a solution.’
Dr Stewart highlighted areas in which rugby is leading the way among UK contact sports. In particular, he pointed to the use of temporary concussion substitutes and the protocols the sport has developed around head injuries.
However, he contrasted the response of British sports to how the NFL dealt with the threat of head injuries in America. There, once a problem of head injuries had been identified in American football, and with a growing risk of litigation, Dr Stewart said changes were made to the sport to improve safety ‘within seasons’.
The post One player in EVERY international rugby match suffers a brain injury as players bulk up appeared first on 247 News Around The World.