Rugby players and the IRFU are finding it more difficult to buy insurance as premium costs have begun to soar because of concussion.
As insurance companies argue that a career-ending concussion injury is repetitive rather than a one-off event, disagreement over payouts and increasing the cost of coverage is on the rise.
The fear all round is that more players like former Leinster, Connacht and Ulster scrumhalf Cillian Willis, who is suing his former club Sale Sharks for "clinical negligence", will emerge.
According to sources in the industry the issue of indemnifying the doctors who treat the players has also arisen as the issue becomes increasingly more litigious.
Tom Grace, the IRFU honorary treasurer said in his end-of-year 2015 report that insurance costs "increased significantly" over the year. The IRFU, yesterday, declined to comment on whether the concussion issue was responsible for a €500,000 hike in costs.
“The IRFU does not comment on rumour or speculation, but can confirm that as is the case with every business, home and indeed motor insurance policy in Ireland, the IRFU’s various insurance premiums, across our entire insurance portfolio have increased, and that such increases are never due to any one factor,” it said in a statement.
Irupa chief executive, Omar Hassanein, speaking at the launch Headway's nationwide concussion aware campaign in Dublin, believes the area of concussion and affordable player insurance has become an area of contention.
“It’s an interesting point,” he says “A lot of our policies are constructed such that they cover one-off, non-degenerative injuries and I guess with the increased awareness around the area of head injuries, concussion, it is making it more and more difficult to insure in that area.
“It’s also quite a grey area in that you can argue that a person’s chain of concussions is generally set off by a one-off incident but you could also argue to the contrary that a series of injuries have led to that person’s retirement from the game.
“Concussion is a lot more difficult to measure than a broken leg or a broken arm so in the absence of having that solid information there is always going to be a opinion as far as whether that is insurable or not. Back to the original point, you’re dead right it’s a challenge.”
As rugby knows head injuries are the most commonly recorded injury and concussion one of the most common reasons for player retirement with 72 per cent of concussions coming in the tackle area.
Data from Headway's campaign, conducted by Amarach Research, comes up with some revealing figures with 70 per cent of parents believing that schools and clubs are not protecting children from dangers of concussion across all sports.
Furthermore over half of the parents surveyed were unsure if their child would tell them if they received a concussion while playing a sport, with rugby the most mentioned sport associated with the injury.
The poll was conducted online from a sample of 1,000 across all ages and gender in September of this year.
“We probably will inevitably find it more difficult to secure the type of premiums we want for the type of coverage we want,” said Hassanein of the elite professional end of rugby.
“It’s hard for me to comment. I guess the IRFU are in negotiations on the contract policy, the one that exists within the standard contract and we would liaise on that. But players can then take their own top-up insurance and each player’s top-up is based on their own individual situation. We have put a set of standardised policies the players can take up. There is always going to be tweaks and changes according to the players history of injury. Often concussion is one area where the tweaks and changes could happen.”
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine less than 12 months ago concluded players who returned to play in the same season after a diagnosed concussion had a 60 per cent greater risk of time-loss injury than players without concussion.
The research suggested their data paved the way for trials of more conservative and comprehensive graduated return to play protocols, with a greater focus on “active rehabilitation. The current return-to-play-protocols are not evidence based or supported by peer reviewed scientific research.