Experts call for a ban on children rugby tackling

In light of the Lions' recent rugby success, Newcastle University experts warn steps need to be taken to ensure children’s safety when they play the sport.

"We need to act now to protect our children from injuries from collision sports. Our evidence shows the high injury rate in rugby for children across all age groups".

Professor Allyson Pollock

The call comes as their research reveals that serious injuries – including concussion – are most likely to be caused by rugby tackling and should be removed from school sport.

They are now calling on governments to protect children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by removing this avoidable harm.

The study, published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, re-examined a large body of existing evidence on the rates and risks of injuries in sport. It came in response to an earlier article in the same journal by World Rugby employee Ross Tucker and colleagues which had  put forward the case that rugby was no more injury prone than other sports.

In the new updated review, the Newcastle University study has found further evidence to support the recent call to remove tackling and other forms of harmful contact from school rugby.

Lead author Professor Allyson Pollock, Director of the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University said: "We need to act now to protect our children from injuries from collision sports. Our evidence shows the high injury rate in rugby for children across all age groups.

“There is also a consensus that collision sports including rugby have higher rates of injury than non-collision contact sports such as football. Rugby has the highest rate of concussion out of any youth sport.

“We know other countries are taking this issue seriously and leading the way.  Rule changes have been introduced in youth ice-hockey in Canada as this is the only proven method of quickly reducing the high rates of injury."

Injury Risks

The paper reports how concussion can lead to long-term harm including a recent study which found girls were three or four times more likely to be affected by symptoms for 28 days than boys. This is a particular concern given the increasing number of female rugby players.

The authors highlight that concussion, and head injury more generally, has also been found to be associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The paper also re-examined claims that previous studies had inflated the risk of injury or that removing the tackle from school rugby might lead to an increase in injury rates at later ages, but found no evidence to support these theories. Contrary to this, the researchers found strong evidence from Canada that removing the "body check" from youth ice-hockey,  where a player deliberately makes contact with an opposing player to separate them from the ice-puck, has led to a 67% reduction in concussion risk.

Co-author Graham Kirkwood of Newcastle University said: "Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments have a duty to protect children from the risks of injury.

“We are proposing a compromise approach where children as a definable vulnerable group of athletes with unique risks require specific measures as a way of lessening the risk of injury.

“School rugby provides an ideal modifiable environment to implement the safety measure of removing the tackle."

The experts’ concerns have been raised as Rugby Football Union is running a programme of introducing the sport to a million children in state schools across England, which is due to finish in 2019.

Professor Pollock added: “All the evidence available on rugby injuries shows there is a high risk of injury and that the tackle is where most of these injuries occur. Chief Medical Officers need to make ministers aware of this evidence and World Rugby and ministers should immediately take a cautionary approach to protect children from avoidable harms by removing the tackle from school rugby.”

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Reference: Evidence in support of the call to ban the tackle and harmful contact in school rugby: a response to World Rugby. Pollock AM, White AJ, Kirkwood G. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017.

Experts Call On Government To Ban Tackling In School Rugby

The UK and Irish governments are being warned that they should do more to protect school children from injury, including head trauma, while playing rugby.

As the Six Nations continues, over 70 academics, doctors and public health professionals have sent an open letter to Ministers, Chief Medical Officers and Children’s commissioners to request a ban of the collision elements of rugby within British school systems, so that children play touch and non-contact rugby.

They write: “Rugby is a high-impact collision sport. Studies show that the risks of injuries for those aged under 18 years are high and injuries are often serious. Second, many secondary schools in the United Kingdom deliver contact rugby as a compulsory part of the physical education curriculum from age eleven. Third, 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.”

Evidence shows that there is a 28 per cent risk of injury for a child rugby player over a season of 15 games. The risk of concussion for a child or adolescent rugby union player over a season is 11 per cent - that is the equivalent of one or two players sustaining a concussion every season in every school or club rugby team of 15 players. Research also points to the tackle being a particular cause for concern. In youth rugby, tackles were found to be responsible for up to two thirds (64 per cent) of all injuries and 87 per cent of concussions. Meanwhile, rugby union is being taken into 750 state secondary schools with the aim of reaching one million children.

One of the signatories of the open letter is Professor Allyson Pollock from Queen Mary University of London and author of the book Tackling Rugby - What every parent should know about injuries which summarises the current state of evidence on the topic. She said: “Parents expect the state to look after their children when they are at school. Rugby is a high-impact collision sport and given that children are more susceptible to injuries such as concussion, the absence of injury surveillance systems and primary prevention strategies is worrying. Children are being left exposed to serious and catastrophic risk of injury. “As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK and Irish governments should ensure the safety of rugby, by removing the contact from the children’s game in schools.”

Another signatory, Professor Eric Anderson, from the University of Winchester and author of 21st Century Jocks, said: “Our contention is not with Rugby, there are many positive things that come from this team sport; our contention is with the collisions that occur in rugby. School children should not be forced to collide with other children as part of the National Curriculum for Physical Education. A more sensible approach is to play tag rugby.”

Open Letter SportCIC March7 2016.pdf Open Letter SportCIC March7 2016.pdf
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Our message is simple: Prevent injury,remove contact.