Sport Schools Rugby

Friday 9 December 2016

Banning all contact won't begin to tackle rugby's ills - but education might

Published 03/03/2016 | 02:30

'Rugby has left itself open to this latest assault on its activities by a historic laxity in assessing the obvious risk inherent in playing the sport - it still has work to do' (Stock photo)
'Rugby has left itself open to this latest assault on its activities by a historic laxity in assessing the obvious risk inherent in playing the sport - it still has work to do' (Stock photo)

Hysteria is the enemy of logic and it is never an ally to reasoned debate.

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Hence, the over-blown response of the medical profession in England to the clear and present dangers inherent in contact sport - in this case, rugby union - has been met with a whirlwind reaction by those steadfastly in opposition.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere between the extremes, between a laissez-faire approach to how our children should enjoy - not endure - the "best days of their lives" and that which purports to control their every movement. Risk is inherent in every school day and one doesn't need to play sports to confront it - from the innocence of climbing trees to high-speed games in the school yard.

Deaths have occurred on school trips, limbs are broken regularly at break time - I have heard of several already this school term in south Dublin - but where does one draw the line?

Should we ban swimming lessons? Omit the potentially violent weapon that is a hurl from ever darkening the door of our schools? Potentially explosive scientific experiments? Surely those hazardous compasses and Bunsen burners should be removed from every school premises forthwith while children are forcibly advised not to cycle or walk to school for fear of accident?

Where does it end? Does one ban schoolchildren from travelling in cars because it has caused deaths?

Surely obesity, poor diets, lack of activity and mental health should be more worthwhile causes of concern?

This is political correctness gone mad and the inference that children are compelled to play contact sports is simply wrong, at least when related to Ireland.

And what of those children who continue playing contact rugby after five years of playing non-contact rugby?

That is, conceivably, far more dangerous than the current situation.

The tragedy of 14-year-old Ben Robinson, the Carrickfergus youngster whose life was extinguished because of an ignorance surrounding the impact of secondary concussion, remains a chillingly cautionary tale.

Nobody can blithely ignore the plight of that family but a keener awareness of the dangers should have prevented that awful tragedy; rugby has, belatedly, attempted to ensure that this particular instance shall never happen again.

But is prohibition preferable to improved awareness? Is prohibition the only way to utterly obviate risk?

Rugby has left itself open to this latest assault on its activities by a historic laxity in assessing the obvious risk inherent in playing the sport - it still has work to do.

Johnny Sexton's concussions and Conor Murray's claret-soaked head all speak of a sport on a bloody knife edge. However, barring children from engaging in contact is only storing up future calamities as nobody would expect any 18-year-old to plunge into a full-contact activity having never done so before.

That, one would think, would be entirely reckless.

Education is key. Rugby could be played in weight, not age groups, perhaps. Rugby has many problems; this is not one of the solutions.

Irish Independent

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