Monday 18 December 2017

Rugby will soon rue failure to deal with concussion

North case shows blazers are letting players down, while Hape brain damage provides chilling warning

Wales wing George North leaves the field for treatment after sustaining a head injury against England at the Millennium Stadium
Wales wing George North leaves the field for treatment after sustaining a head injury against England at the Millennium Stadium

Donny Mahoney

In a March 2013 cover story for 'ESPN: The Magazine', an NFL Hall of Famer disclosed the greatest fear of his friend, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: a player being killed while playing the game.

"He's terrified of it. It wouldn't just be a tragedy. It would be awfully bad for business."

Scientific evidence was proving that the violent nature of American football was killing many of its players after they'd hung up their pads, but the death of a player on the field seemed to strike Goodell as a tragedy that could destroy the sport.

It might be a decade before we truly appreciate the physical toll that modern rugby has exacted from its players, or then again, as the George North incident last Friday showed, it might not.

Having seen North tumble to the ground after a collision with team-mate Richard Hibbard, it seems Goodell's nightmare scenario must be something that the blazers at World Rugby (formerly the IRB) must also be dreading.

World Rugby criticised, but declined to sanction, the Wales Rugby Union for allowing North to complete the game against England, while calling for a review of protocol for implementing their concussion guidelines.

They accepted WRU's explanation that neither the team medical staff nor the independent doctor had sight of the incident, and that the medics would have taken a different course of action had they had direct pitchside visibility or access to the same broadcast footage seen by those watching on television.

In doing so, they bottled it. They should have punished for the Welsh management team for failing to see what the rest of the world saw.

We all know about the dangers of concussion, but it's worrying to see the bureaucrats who run the sport continue to fail the players whose livelihood they effectively protect.

Ultimately it's up to the likes of World Rugby to employ their own video crew and their own doctors to police concussion.

Given what we know about second impact syndrome, there is a strong argument that North should not have even been allowed back on the pitch after being booted in the head in the first half.

Former New Zealand rugby leaguer Shontayne Hape, who was capped 13 times for England in rugby union, has started to write about the brain damage he's suffered.

"I've got the concentration span of a little kid. My oldest son can sit at the table and do stuff for hours. When I do my university assignments. I struggle. Half an hour and that's me," he wrote.

"I do worry about Alzheimer's and dementia. The doctors can't tell me what is going to happen to me in 10 years' time. Research has shown that's when it catches up with you."

Sooner or later, it's going to catch up with rugby union.

Irish Independent

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