Sunday 22 July 2018

Tackling in schools rugby is so harmful it should be banned, claims expert

Expert has urged non-contact rugby in schools. Stock image
Expert has urged non-contact rugby in schools. Stock image
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

School rugby would be banned if it was a drug, such is the rate of harm and injury, an expert has claimed.

People do not understand the full range of "horrendous" injuries that occur, said Prof Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health at the University of London.

One neurosurgeon has spoken of picking pieces of bone out of people's brains, she added.

It is also not uncommon for children to lose a kidney or suffer serious concussion.

Prof Pollock, who spoke at the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation in Sligo, is one of 70 doctors, academics and health professionals who signed an open letter last month calling on schools to ban rugby tackling and urging them to move to touch and non-contact versions of the sport.

"We know from an Ulster study that out of 825 schoolboys in a season there were 426 injuries, most of them serious," said Prof Pollock, the author of Tackling Rugby: What Every Parent Should Know About Injuries.

"The number of children experiencing one or more injuries in a season is 36pc.

"Would you want your child to have a 36pc rate of injury in a season? Would you want them to have a 10pc to 20pc chance of concussion in a season?

"There has to be a radical change in the laws of the game for young people. I'd remove the governance where World Rugby controls the laws of the game."

Prof Pollock said rugby was a €1bn-a-year industry.

"You have to have proper child representation," she said.

"The voice of children is never heard. Many children are terrified about playing. Many love the game, but many who hate the game are frightened.

"Letting World Rugby be in charge of schools rugby is like letting McDonald's be in charge of the school canteen."

Children who are injured are more likely to suffer another injury, said the professor.

Her advice to parents is to ask the school for injury data and details of how injuries are monitored.

"If schools can't give it to them, walk away," she urged.

Children build themselves up and "look like monsters", but they are disguising the fact they have fragile bones.

"Their brains are developing until they are 24," said Prof Pollock.

"We know with concussion that it has short-term effects - epilepsy, visual problems, headaches, cognitive problems and mental health problems, depression. We still don't under understand the full range of consequences."

Irish Independent

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