IRFU stance on goggles doesn’t make sense, say eye experts
Rugby governing body has opted out of protective eyewear trial on ‘safety grounds’
Ian McKinley: former Ireland Under-20 outhalf, who now plays for Zebre, lost his sight in one eye. Photograph: Francesca Soli
The IRFU has come into direct conflict with the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) over the issue of players wearing protective goggles. IRFU policy states that no player is permitted to wear the goggles, despite the AOI saying there is no evidence to justify that position.
A trial instigated by World Rugby has been running now for two years, although not in Ireland, with the IRFU opting out on health and safety grounds. In a lengthy explanatory document issued yesterday on their website, the IRFU said that before opting out of the trials and banning the use of the goggles, their medical experts sought independent advice from one of Ireland’s leading ophthalmic surgeons.
The statement does not identify the surgeon or specifically state their objections.
“Based on this advice it was decided that Ireland would not participate in the trial, as to do so would potentially jeopardise the health and safety of those playing our game,” said the statement. “Therefore, the wearing of eyewear on the field of play continues to be prohibited.”
An IRFU spokesman added that the health of players was their paramount interest and that “the goggles posed a risk to the player or other players in a contact situation”.
The AOI is bemused that the IRFU chose not to consult its members, who fit eyewear on a regular basis. It claims that hundreds of individuals have worn the goggles in other countries with no ill effects to the wearer or other players. Italy, Scotland and USA are among countries involved in the trial.
“The trial has been running for two years now. There have been no adverse incidents reported,” said Martin O’Brien, who is an executive member of the AOI and the Irish representative on the European Council of Optometry and Optics.
“If you want to do something about eyewear, you would imagine the first thing would be to consult the people who fit eyewear.
“We do not understand what the objection is. It would be very interesting to know on what it was they based their objection.”
The trial period for the goggles was supposed to end in May 2015 but has been extended to the end of 2016. The purpose-built goggles, by Italian company Raleri, have been trialled by 525 individuals so far.
Other reinforced goggles are used in other sports.
Hundreds of members
“We have hundreds of members of the association fitting them to players of all ages in soccer and GAA,” said Mr O’Brien. “The GAA have no problem as long as they are approved safety wear and their members may wear them up to intercounty level.”
Features of the approved goggles include high-speed impact resistance, anti-abrasion surfaces, anti-fogging, UV protection and a specially designed strap with no clips, buckles or sharp edges.
The most high-profile player to wear the goggles is former Irish Under-20 and Leinster outhalf Ian McKinley, who plays with Zebre.
McKinley, who lost his sight in one eye, cannot take part in matches under IRFU jurisdiction.