Non-contact calls for school rugby

A tackle in a local junior game (credit: Brian King)
A tackle in a local junior game (credit: Brian King)
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Full contact in school rugby matches in Wigan could be a thing of the past if a campaign by medical experts receives government approval.

More than 70 doctors and concussion specialists have written to Westminster calling for a ban on tackling in school games of both codes.

In the open letter, which is addressed to ministers, chief medical officers and children’s commissioners, rugby is described as a “high-impact collision sport”.

They warn of a high risk of serious injury among under-18s from playing rugby and said schools should move to touch rugby and non-contact rugby.

The letter, which is signed by sport scholars, academics, doctors, and public health professionals, said studies show that the risks of injuries for those aged under 18 “are high and injuries are often serious”.

It said many secondary schools in the UK deliver contact rugby as a compulsory part of the physical education curriculum from age 11.

It reads: “The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum.

“These injuries which include fractures, ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries and head injuries can have short-term, life-long, and life-ending consequences for children.”

The letter said concussion is a common injury and repeat concussion is most likely among players who have suffered it previously.

“A link has been found between repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities, as well as longer term problems,” the letter said. “Children take longer to recover to normal levels on measures of memory, reaction speed and post-concussive symptoms than adults.”

The experts said injuries from rugby can also “result in significant time loss from school”.

One of the signatories of the open letter is Professor Allyson Pollock from Queen Mary University of London, who has campaigned about the dangers of rugby.

She said: “Parents expect the state to look after their children when they are at school. Children are more susceptible to concussion and the absence of injury surveillance systems and prevention strategies is worrying. Children are being left exposed to serious and catastrophic risk of injury. “