A piece in today’s Sunday Times. Professor Eric Anderson is one of the co-signatories of the letter published by the paper today, linked in the article:
Children should be banned from tackling when they play rugby at school to protect them from brain injuries, according to academics.
As the Six Nations tournament gets under way this weekend, they are also calling for contact rugby to be made optional at school. Contact rugby is mandatory for 76 per cent of boys in state schools in England, according to a survey.
The academics’ letter to Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, and Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, is published in The Sunday Times today. One signatory, Adam White from Oxford Brookes University, who did the rugby survey, said in an interview: “In school PE, we should not be compelling children to participate in a sport that is ruining their brains.”
The former Wales international Alix Popham, 41, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia last year, which his doctors blame on his career, said all teachers leading contact rugby sessions in school PE should be given training in concussion. He does not think tackling should be banned.
His wife, Melanie Bramwell-Popham, said she would not let their daughter, Darcey, 2, play until changes are brought in. “I’m facing a life of my husband with chronic traumatic encephalopathy and dementia, and Darcey very likely to lose her dad at a very young age,” she said. “I’m not going to have that happen to my only daughter as well.”
Popham went to see his doctor after his wife noticed changes in his behaviour. His doctor estimates he has sustained more than 100,000 sub-concussive blows.
Last week was the 10th anniversary of the death of Ben Robinson, 14, who collapsed near the end of a rugby match. A coroner found his death was caused by “second impact syndrome”. His father, Peter, has called for mandatory concussion lessons. He campaigns to protect young people with the mantra: “If in doubt, sit them out.”
The Six Nations takes place against a backdrop of concern about concussion and brain injuries. In December, a group of players including Popham and England World Cup winner Steve Thompson, 42, revealed they had been diagnosed with early signs of dementia, and are launching a claim against the game’s authorities for negligence.
White said it was a “farce” that teachers could teach contact rugby without concussion training.
“Anyone who delivers contact rugby to children or adults should be trained in how to recognise and manage concussions to prevent as much damage as we can,” he said.
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