World Rugby vows not to “stand still” on the issue of player welfare

World Rugby vows not to “stand still” on the issue of player welfare

World Rugby has promised they “don’t stand still” on the issue of player well-being amid claims that practicing the sport has caused brain damage.

Lawyers for over 185 players have sued World Rugby, Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union for failing to “protect players from permanent injury”.

Plaintiffs include former Wales captain Ryan Jones and 2003 World Cup-winning English prostitute Steve Thompson, with many of the former players diagnosed with early dementia and other irreversible neurological damage.

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World Rugby boss Alan Gilpin says the governing body will continue to follow an evidence-based approach to the issue of player welfare (Andrew Matthews / PA)

Speaking exclusively to the PA news agency, World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin said: “We have heard these stories and testimonies and have great sympathy for the players involved and their families.

“The first thing is sincere solidarity and our commitment is to listen to the testimonies of those players as much as possible.

“For those involved in legal actions we cannot directly involve them. This is really a shame, but our commitment to them is that we don’t stick to these things.

“We have worked hard on the well-being of the players and will continue to follow an evidence-based approach.”

Progressive Rugby lobby group says it is “finalizing a comprehensive list of critical player welfare requirements” that will be presented to the sport’s global governing body.

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Former Wales captain Ryan Jones diagnosed with early-onset dementia (Tim Ireland / PA)

World Rugby unveiled a six-point plan in July 2021 to improve player well-being in the sport.

Among the initiatives, which placed a strong focus on former players, women, and community gaming, were independent concussion consultants to support elite game’s gradual return-to-play protocols.

For the past 18 months the ORCHID study has been conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand to consider the impact of the head on community rugby, with its full results to be published around October.

Gilpin said: “One of the challenges is that if you follow the data and the science, it takes time.

“What worries us is that some different issues have become confused.

“This is what is happening at the end of the elite pro game – a question we need to address – until how quickly it becomes a debate on ‘is my kids safe to play rugby?’

“The research will show through the largest study undertaken in community sport that the kind of impact suffered in senior rugby and community rugby is incredibly different from what we are seeing in professional play.

“Our message is that there are two different debates here and we cannot confuse them.

“The type of impact is very different and we have a ready tackle program in community play focused on teaching the right tackle technique.”

This tackle-ready element has been extended to the women’s game, which Gilpin says is the “fastest growing part of our sport” with a ten-year plan in place to build on the foundation laid.

Gilpin says the changes in law, officials and the team management attitude have helped rugby become a safer sport, while maintaining its status as a true spectacle for fans.

World Rugby’s Head Injury Assessment Protocols (HIA) have been criticized by safety activists after Johnny Sexton was selected for the second Irish test against New Zealand last month.

Archive photo by Johnny Sexton

Irishman Johnny Sexton was cleared to play the second test against New Zealand last month after suffering a head injury the previous week (Adam Davy / PA)

Ireland captain Sexton was forced to drop out in the first test following a collision with All Blacks striker Sam Cane.

Gilpin said: “It was an accident that was actually misunderstood as Johnny came out with an HIA1, which is actually a tool for trying to figure out if he has suffered a concussion.

“In that case he actually passed HIA1, which means he didn’t have a concussion.

“Ireland have taken a more conservative approach and have not returned to the pitch.

“So he didn’t go to the return-to-game protocol because he didn’t have a concussion – and that’s a really important distinction for us.

“I think we saw during the July series that the national teams handled the players carefully, as well as our adaptation to the gradual return to the game in an individualized approach before that window.

“It meant that players who had undergone what we call ‘Criterion One’ and who have clear symptoms cannot return in that first 12 day period.

“The implementation was really good.”

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