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Physical contact in sport

The effects – particularly long-term – of concussion as suffered in sport is a topic of the moment for rugby union in the wake of incidents relating to Wales’s George North (wing threequarter) and Samson Lee (prop) and England’s Mike Brown (full back) in the Six Nations tournament.

World Rugby is reviewing its protocols on player protection. The Welsh medical team was roundly criticised after George North’s second (I repeat second) brush with unconsciousness in the game against England, the one where he ran into a Welsh player and collapsed without putting out his arms to break his fall [a sure sign of a problem and not just in my book]. The following day, when Mike Brown suffered his sickening collision in England’s game against Italy at Twickenham, the England medics – operating a new system combining ‘immediate’ treatment plus live monitoring of television broadcasts – were on the scene in heavy numbers within seconds and took no fewer than nine minutes to convey the stricken player off the pitch.

With one eye carefully monitoring the legal situation in the USA, where former NFL players and their representatives are apparently pursuing group and individual actions potentially costing the authorities and major teams hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars for negligence and similar ‘lack of attention’ to player welfare over the past thirty plus years, rugby player representatives, journalists and others in the Northern Hemisphere are turning up the heat.

I was recently shocked to read that Barry O’Driscoll – uncle of Brian – had resigned after fifteen years as medical officer of the International Rugby Board (now styled ‘World Rugby’) in 2013 in protest at the lack of seriousness with which the issue of concussion was being addressed.

Well, the rugby authorities seem to be taking it more seriously now.

Last autumn Professor Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health Research at Queen Mary, University of London, caused a stir when she advised mothers not to let their sons play rugby because it was too dangerous.

Today, on the website of the Daily Telegraph, Mike Tindall is advocating that parents should make sure their kids learn to tackle properly, rather than rely upon headguards and shoulder pads, when playing rugby – see here – DAILY TELEGRAPH

Amongst others, Professor Pollock has criticised Tindall’s comments.

It seems this issue is going to run and run.

What occurs to me as I observe this media mini-storm is a comment upon the very nature of sport.

So much of it is about physical contact and confrontation. If the gainsayers and health & safety campaigners were to get their way to its logical extension – and I’m not necessarily saying they shouldn’t, based upon some of the frightening evidence they cite – then sports such as rugby (both codes), American Football, ice hockey, boxing, motor racing, skiing (especially ski jumping), cricket and horse racing should be banned.

Come to think of it, so should all forms of military training … and indeed war.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, then …




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About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts