Calls to improve the safety of school rugby have been cautiously welcomed by Headway – the brain injury charity, although the charity has stopped short of calling for a ban on all tackling for those under 18.
The charity was responding to a letter signed by doctors and health experts calling for the government to ban full-contact rugby in schools.
“We can see the merit in limiting contact in rugby in younger children, but it is difficult to define where the line should be drawn in terms of at what age players should be introduced to full-contact rugby,” said Stephen Welch, Chief Executive, Headway Thames Valley.
“It is vital to ensure players are taught the correct tackling techniques in rugby. If they are prevented from tackling until they are 18, they will be ill-prepared for adult rugby and would be more likely to sustain serious injury as a result.
“Rugby has committed to improving concussion awareness and protocols, and a significant amount of change has occurred over the past few years. The sport has to take credit for this, although it is clear the momentum needs to be maintained with awareness and education campaigns at grassroots level.
“This includes schools and we would like to see the government provide concussion awareness training to all teachers – not just those conducting the sports lessons.
“Sports teachers must adopt an ‘if in doubt, sit it out!’ approach and receive mandatory concussion training.
“At the same time, classroom teachers need to be trained to recognise the symptoms of concussion, such as slurred speech, dizziness or nausea, the presentation of which can be delayed for several hours after impact.
“Sport plays an important role in keeping us fit and healthy, with team sports in particular providing a host of additional benefits, including social interaction and instilling discipline and teamwork in young people. It is important that all measures to protect the welfare of children playing sport are introduced without discouraging participation.”
For more information about Headway’s If in doubt, sit it out! campaign or to download the free Headway factsheet on concussion in sport, visit www.headway.org.uk or call the helpline on 0808 800 2244.