More than 70 leading health experts, doctors, and prominent academics have started a petition to ban tackling in school rugby games in the United Kingdom.
The open letter sent to politicians, cabinet members, medical professionals and children’s commissioners describes rugby as a “high-impact collision sport” and urges schools to remove the harmful forms of contact from the game.
Serious concerns that rough rugby games expose children to a significant risk of fatal spinal and head injuries motivated the signatories to take action, writes Jonathan Owen of The Independent. According to health experts, such serious injuries may lead to “short-term, life-long, and life-ending consequences for children”:
“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.”
In addition to that, the injuries can also result in a significant period of absence from school.
Health experts suggest that schools should encourage children to play touch rugby instead. In this form of the game, the players stop the person with the ball by tapping him, not by tackling. The signatories hope that they will be able to get over 100,000 signatures for a petition that can go further to a debate in Parliament, writes Laura Mowat of The Sunday Express.
The Department for Education spokesperson commented that British schools were supposed to be aware of the risks involved in sporting activities and to provide a safe training environment for children. In an interview with Ben Quinn of The Guardian, the spokesperson also emphasized the importance of sports for building and developing pupils’ character. According to her, team sports such as rugby help children develop positive traits such as leadership skills, fair play, and resilience.
Nathan Gill, the UKIP Leader in Wales, added that tackling has been a significant aspect of the rugby game for ages. He said that it was the task of a qualified Physical Education instructor to ensure that pupils were playing sports with safety in mind.
The spokesman of the Rugby Football Union commented that it took players’ safety very seriously. The union has also worked on a three-year injury prevention program and surveillance study on school injuries, as well as implementing a program called RugbySafe. He said that appropriate player behavior on the field, high-quality coaching, and adequate medical support could significantly contribute to reducing the risk of injuries.
Parents and students, some of whom suffered from rugby injuries, talked about their experiences with Stephen Fottrell and Alex Morrison of the BBC. David Ross is now paralyzed from the neck down after breaking his neck while playing rugby at school when he was 18. He was on the ground and a tackle happened beside him. Two other players came down on top of him, and his neck bent in an unusual way, said Ross. He called it an “accident” and confessed he had no resentment at all toward rugby. Now he hopes to take part in the wheelchair rugby at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. He believes the contact is a crucial part of the game, and he disagrees with a potential ban on it.
Angus Swanson, currently 20, suffered from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 18 after a rugby tackle. He recovered successfully and is now coaching an under-14 team. Swanson agreed with Ross, saying that tackling was indeed an essential part of the game and should not be banned. He suggested that rugby should not be a compulsory subject, but students should be free to decide whether to play it or not.