- Injuries sustained in rugby can range from bruises to spinal cord damage
- Academics say government plans to increase school rugby games is risky
- Professor's son suffered horrendous injuries playing the sport aged 14
- Allyson Pollock wants to see an end to tackling and scrums in the game
Children should not be encouraged to play rugby at school because it is so dangerous, researchers have warned.
They say as many as 1 in 8 will suffer injuries serious enough that they will need to miss at least seven training sessions or matches.
These range from bruises and sprains to fractures, torn ligaments and at worst, concussion and damage to the brain and spinal cord.
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As many as 1 in 8 will suffer injuries serious enough that they will need to miss at least seven training sessions or matches.
The Government wants rugby to be played more at school as part of plans to increase competitive sports, to curb rising levels of obesity.
But Professor Allyson Pollock, an expert in Public Health at Queen Mary, University of London said these plans were ‘extremely worrying.’
The academic – whose son shattered his cheekbone playing rugby at school – said not enough was being done to monitor the number of injuries.
Writing in the BMJ, she said the Government had a ‘duty to protect children from the risks of injury’ as part of a law enshrined by the United Nations.
‘Given that children are more susceptible to injuries such as concussion and often take longer to recover fully, the Government’s plan to increase funding of and participation in rugby in schools in the absence of a comprehensive system for injury surveillance and prevention is worrying.’ She added.
‘Only by collecting injury data and by providing feedback to individuals and organisations working on safety initiatives will the short and long term effects of injury prevention programmes, whether for rugby or any other sport, be known.
‘Many countries, including the UK, have inadequate child injury surveillance systems. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child governments have a duty to protect children from risks of injury.
Professor Allyson Pollock wants to see rugby made safer for children, with an end to scrums and tackles — where nearly all the injuries occur
‘The UK government should ensure the safety and effectiveness of sports and that injury surveillance and prevention strategies are established before proceeding with its plans to target funding and increase participation in a high risk collision sport such as rugby.’
In New Zealand, the current holders of the Rugby World Cup, sports authorities monitor the number of rugby injuries compares to the population making it possible to work out how risky it is compared to other sports.
She also pointed out that other countries such as New Zealand monitor the number of rugby injuries compares to the population.
This makes it possible to work out how risky it is compared to other sports.
Currently, rugby is mainly played at independent schools rather than state schools where the dominant sport for boys is football.
But in 2012 the Government pledged to increase both girls’ and boys’ participation in rugby at school as part of a drive to boost competitive sports.
Professor Pollock’s son Hugo suffered a shattered cheekbone playing rugby at school 11 years ago, when he was 14.
In an article for the Mail, published in September, she described how his ‘face looked distorted’ and his ‘eye socket was hanging down’
She said: ‘I’m not calling for a ban on rugby at school. I’m calling for parents to be given information so they know the risks, and I want to see rugby made safer for children, with an end to scrums and tackles — where nearly all the injuries occur.
‘I’d like school rugby to become touch rugby, instead of contact rugby. All injuries should be recorded, and none should be acceptable or seen as ‘an act of God’.
‘Most of all, children should be safe at school.’
The Rugby Football Union – the professional body – has clear rules for school children and they are not allowed to tackle or form scrums until the age of ten.
Even then, tackles are minimal and the referee will blow the whistle as soon as the player is brought to the ground.
And a maximum of between three and five players from each team can take part in scrums – where they interlock over the ball – depending on their age.
Currently, rugby is mainly played at independent schools rather than state schools where the dominant sport for boys is football
Children under 10 play touch rugby where they have to pass the ball to the other side as soon as an opponent makes contact with any part of their body.
A spokesman for the RFU said: ‘We take player safety extremely seriously and this is at the core of all the training we deliver to coaches, referees and medics, at all levels of the game.‘We believe that rugby is a fantastic sport for children, and the physical and social benefits massively outweigh any potential drawbacks.
‘Among the many benefits rugby brings for children is an increase in confidence, self-esteem and self-discipline, as well as getting enjoyable physical exercise while working as part of a team, learning skills which help them in the wider world.
‘Teachers frequently comment on notable off pitch improvements when the sport is introduced in their schools.’