Monday 24 October 2016

'Ludicrous' - Former Leinster player who lost an eye launches campaign to remove playing ban with protective goggles

Published 15/10/2015 | 10:27

Ian McKinley in action for Leinster in 2011
Ian McKinley in action for Leinster in 2011
Ian McKinley in action for Leinster in 2011

An Irish rugby player who wears protective eye goggles after losing an eye four in 2010 has launched a campaign calling on the IRFU and World Rugby to allow him compete in matches on Irish soil

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Dubliner Ian McKinley, who plays for Italian side Zebre, wears protective eye-goggles after losing an eye in 2010. The former Leinster youth and Ireland underage international is currently prevented from playing in Ireland because of the protective eyewear and as a result cannot participate when the Italians travel to the Sportsground tomorrow to take on Connacht in the Guinness PRO12.

A trial of the goggles was sanctioned by World Rugby in January 2014, but the IRFU has declined to participate, effectively blocking rugby players that require the goggles from playing in Ireland. 

“I received a letter from the IRFU last week, saying they could not permit me to play against Connacht if I wear the protective goggles,” the 25-year-old explained.  “They had sought World Rugby’s advice, and were told a player from a participating union may not wear goggles while playing in the jurisdiction of a union that is not participating in the trial. 

“So I am now faced with a ludicrous situation, whereby the IRFU will allow me to play if I do not wear the goggles, but they will not permit me to play if I wear this essential piece of protective gear.”   

McKinley was called up to the Zebre squad last month, having been signed to Viadana, one of the biggest sides in the Italian league, since August 2014.  He played for Zebre against Llanelli Scarlets in the Pro12 competition in Italy in recent week

Ian McKinley in action for Leinster in 2011
Ian McKinley in action for Leinster in 2011
Ian McKinley in action for Leinster in 2011
Ian McKinley in action for Leinster in 2011

McKinley himself played a central role in developing the pioneering goggles, after losing the sight in his left eye during a rugby match in 2010.  At the time, he was playing professional rugby with Leinster, and had 11 caps for Ireland at under-19 and under-20 age-levels. 

“I lost my eye when a team-mate accidentally put his stud in it during a ruck, causing a full rupture,” said McKinley.  “I was determined to stay playing despite my injury, and I continued with Leinster for a further 18 months.  However, during that time, my good eye was deliberately gouged during two All-Ireland League matches. 

“I had to face up to the reality that I could end up blind if I continued to play without protective eye-wear.  So I made the excruciating decision to quit the game I loved at the age of 21.”

“When World Rugby agreed to conduct a trial of the goggles back in January 2014, I felt like I had been handed a lifeline,” said McKinley.  “This has enabled me to return to playing professionally because, wearing the goggles, I know my good eye is protected.

“However, it is heart-breaking that I am not currently allowed to play in my own home country.  Over the past two years, myself and others in similar situations have been in ongoing contact with World Rugby and the IRFU to see if we can resolve this situation once and for all. 

McKinley said he believes his rights under the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights are being breached because of the position adopted by the IRFU and the lack of action on the part of World Rugby. 

"I feel strongly that the restrictions being placed on me are in breach of anti-discrimination legislation here in Ireland, as well as EU laws on workers’ mobility.   

“In the short term, we want to see the IRFU signing up to this trial, so that I can wear the goggles while playing in Ireland” he said.  “But, ultimately, we want World Rugby to formally endorse the wearing of the goggles by players who have a proven need for them.  This would then mean that all domestic unions would have to permit the goggles. 

"At the very least, World Rugby could alter the current position immediately, so that rugby unions that have not signed up to the trial can still allow players to wear goggles in matches in their jurisdiction.

“In the longer term, I am hoping that this campaign will demonstrate that it is possible to resume a sports career at the highest levels, despite having suffered a serious injury.  And I’m also hoping that this will show those who are concerned about safety standards in rugby that there are workable solutions to ensure players at all levels can safely enjoy the game.”

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