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Progressive Rugby statement: Seven-point plan to make rugby safer

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

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Concussion awareness group Progressive Rugby have called on World Rugby to fast-track a package of player welfare requirements into the elite game to urgently address the brain injury crisis blighting the game. Progressive Rugby’s call comes after the recent publication of a peer-reviewed paper that concluded – based on an analysis of existing research – that a causal link exists between repeated head injury (RHI) and the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

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Having consulted with former and current elite players, the player welfare group insisted that the highest priority for the game must be to reduce a player’s exposure to the number of brain injuries and sub-concussive impacts each season. In doing so, their hope is it will ensure that a majority of elite players can enjoy an extended career and improved long-term health.

The seven-point Progressive Rugby plan:

  1. Minimum 21-day non-negotiable blanket stand down after a brain injury, irrespective of elite player’s concussion history;
  2. Failure of in-game HIA1 to trigger minimum 21-day period;
  3. Mandated weekly ‘bone-on-bone’ contact training limit of 15 minutes;
  4. Game limit reduced by 20 per cent to 25 games (or match equivalent minutes) and mandated;
  5. Stiff punishments – including club/country fines and points deductions – for non-compliance;
  6. Minimum eight-week protected annual rest, including at least two weeks in-season with a further five-week break between seasons and an additional one week to be used at any time;
  7. Injury replacements only to eliminate collisions between fatigued and fresh players.

Aside from the seven-point plan that Progressive Rugby was fast-tracked, they also called on World Rugby to complement their ideas with six other measures:

  1. Establishment of a global calendar;
  2. Mandatory annual brain injury education;
  3. Brain injury health passports;
  4. Maximum tackle height at nipple line;
  5. Further investigation of law changes around rucks and tackle area to protect against exposure to impacts to the head and neck area;
  6. Abolition of 20-minute red card to provide a consistent deterrent.”

The welfare package from Progressive Rugby comes in the wake of over 185 players suing World Rugby, the RFU and WRU for negligence, claiming that playing the sport has left them brain damaged. The list of players includes 2003 England World Cup winner Steve Thompson and Wales Grand Slam-winning captain Ryan Jones. Irish and Scottish players have also announced separate court actions.

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What happens inside the brain during a concussion | Beyond 80 Knocked
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What happens inside the brain during a concussion | Beyond 80 Knocked

Progressive Rugby’s professor John Fairclough said: “Elite rugby has to hit the reset button right now because these are the players in the shop window of this great sport. There is now no other option but to drastically reduce the number of impacts a player receives over their career and take extreme caution with the management of players who do suffer brain injuries.

“We are talking about the brain, the most crucial but vulnerable organ we have. So that means it’s non-negotiable that we err on the side of caution. If evidence then comes to light that allows that cautious stance to be revisited that’s fine. It has to be the right way to do it.

“The elite game has changed beyond recognition since professionalism and is no longer the contact sport that many of us grew up watching from the stands. A focus on producing increasingly powerful, fitter, faster and dynamic athletes, has resulted in collisions of extraordinary magnitude.

“In the elite game players no longer seem coached to evade the opposition but rather to physically dominate them by running into and over them. But sadly, while elite players’ bodies have transformed to better dish out and withstand these colossal impacts, their brains have remained just as vulnerable as ever.”

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