World Rugby rejects proposal to ban tackles at schools level

Letter from 70 health experts calls for a ban on tackling for schoolchildren

“The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum,” says the open letter from the health professionals. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

“The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum,” says the open letter from the health professionals. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

World Rugby has said that the proposals outlined in an open letter signed by more than 70 doctors and health experts would have injurious effects on young rugby players if adopted.

The letter, which was signed by an array of sports scholars, academics, doctors and public health professionals, calls for a ban on tackling for school children because of the number of injuries sustained in the contact of the game.

Addressed to ministers, chief medical officers and children’s commissioners in Britain and Northern Ireland as well as governmental departments in the Republic of Ireland, the letter describes rugby as a “high-impact collision sport” and claims that “injuries to those under 18 years of age are often serious”.

Collision elements

World Rugby has rejected the proposal claiming that tackling is a learned skill that takes many hours of practice to perfect safely and that subjecting teenagers to tackling rugby after years of non-contact would be hazardous.

“The key to injury prevention is the promotion of the best-possible techniques, particularly in the tackle,” said World Rugby. “Suddenly introducing tackling at 18 would have an adverse effect in terms of injuries as preparing to play is key.”

The letter outlined the number of concussions sustained by rugby players, time at school missed because of rugby injuries and pointed out that under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 19) government have a duty to protect children from risk of injury. As party to the Convention the UK (and Ireland) must ensure the safety of children.

Second Captains

The letter was addressed to Jan O’Sullivan, Minister for Education, Minister for Sport Paschal O’Donohoe and Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health.

The Department of Health did not respond to enquiries from The Irish Times.

World Rugby added that federations around the world teach tackling in a graduated way from an early age, where the safety aspect is paramount.

Recently, however, the advent of the ‘choke’ tackle, where players collide standing upright in an effort to turn their opponent around for the ball to be ripped, has drawn criticism. Anecdotally, there have been more head collisions between players tackling in this way.

“Rugby for young people at schools or clubs exists in different forms, both non-contact and contact, and significant work has been undertaken over a number of years to develop a structured progression to cover the introduction, playing, teaching and refereeing of the game from child to adult level to maximise player safety through World Rugby’s Rugby Ready programme,” said World Rugby.

Personal benefits

However, they did point out, as World Rugby did, that the benefits of playing rugby and other contact sports outweighs some of the hazards faced by participants during matches.

“The IRFU believe that the lifelong health and personal benefits of rugby, and other contact sports, far outweigh the risks,” said their statement.

“There is a risk of injury in all contact sports and while World Rugby and the IRFU, in partnership with Ulster University and other institutions, are undertaking research into this important area.”

However, if the UK government departments adopt the non-tackling proposal, the IRFU would have a serious problem as clubs and schools in Ulster would be bound by UK regulations whereas the IRFU is a 32-county organisation.

“The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum,” says the open letter. “These injuries, which include fractures, ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries and head injuries can have short-term, life-long and life-ending consequences for children.”

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