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World Rugby signals ex-player 'major initiative' care announcement

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin has signalled that his organisation will unveil “another major initiative” in the area of ex-players care this Wednesday during their medical commission conference in London which is taking place at the end of a year where more troubling testimonies of dementia have emerged. The administrator, who took over the reins earlier this year from Brett Gosper after he switched into NFL, has been vocal on the issue of dementia since becoming rugby’s new figurehead. 

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Now, in his opening address at the annual medical conference in London, Gilpin has outlined how the agenda for the gathering has been shaped around the six pillars of World Rugby’s plan to try and make their game safer. 

He told delegates at the conference: “We are making strong progress guided by you, the science and research. We have launched the largest-ever study of head impacts in the game using instrumented mouthguard technology to determine what it looks like to play the game at every level and how we can make the sport safer.

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“We have implemented a programme of independent concussion consultants to support the return to play process following a concussion. We have approved welfare-driven global law trials aimed at promoting space, slowing defensive linespeed and enhancing the breakdown.

“We have embraced eye-tracking technology and are trialling it alongside the HIA process. We have launched new contact training guidance that promotes welfare and performance. We recently launched a dedicated women’s player welfare advisory group which will do great work. And tomorrow [Wednesday] we will unveil another major initiative in the area of former player care.”

There was no indication in Gilpin’s speech as to what exactly that initiative might be but he sounded like an administrator who values opinion rather than ignores it. “Over the last year, we have heard incredibly brave testimonies from former players who have come forward and talked about their struggles with dementia,” admitted the World Rugby boss. “They are part of the rugby family and we will always stand with them.

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“Our sport is united around the same vision: to create a safer, more sustainable game, which future generations can enjoy. We know that rugby can change lives for the better: young and old, men and women, elite and amateur. Rugby improves fitness, mental health and overall wellbeing. It builds leadership skills. Embodies teamwork. Most importantly it builds connections at a time when we have all spent too much time apart.”

Gilpin later added: “We will not stand still in our commitment and with your expertise, input and support, we can make the sport even better for our players. Since its inception, the aim of this group has been to bring together the rugby family and outside experts to discuss, debate and ultimately pursue strategies that can advance physical and mental welfare, and most importantly, strategies that will reduce the risk of injury at all levels. 

“If we are to successfully deliver on this challenge, we need to hear all voices within the debate – everyone in the family has a say and a role. And we will be listening… Medical science and knowledge is ever-evolving. Rugby will continue to evolve with it to further reduce the risk of injury, but also to further support players with mental wellbeing issues during and after their careers.”

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