Researchers have warned that children should not be encouraged to play rugby at school as it is so dangerous.
They say as many as 1 in 8 children will suffer injuries serious enough to cause them to miss at least seven training sessions or matches.
Rugby injuries can range from simple bruises to sprains, fractures and torn ligaments as well as concussion and at worse, damage to the brain and spinal cord.
Following calls by the UK Government for more rugby to be played in schools as part of a drive to increase competitive sports to combat rising levels of obesity, an expert in Public Health at Queen Mary, University of London said the proposals were ‘extremely worrying.’
The academic – whose son suffered a shattered cheekbone while playing rugby at school as a teenager – said more needed to be done to monitor the number of rugby injuries in schools.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, she said that under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government had a ‘duty to protect children from the risks of injury’.
We know that children are more susceptible to injuries such as concussion and often take much longer to recover fully than adults. Although the Government’s plans to promote and increase funding for more competitive sports in school is admirable, there is concern that without a comprehensive system for injury monitoring and prevention, the number of rugby-related injuries in schools may rise.
It is only by collecting data on the numbers and types of injuries suffered whilst playing rugby in schools and feeding the information back to organisations involved in safety initiatives, that we will know the short and long-term effects of injury prevention programmes.
Rugby obviously has tremendous benefits for children in terms of promoting physical fitness and confidence.
However, as there is sustained physical contact particularly in and around the scrum and when tackling and mauling, spine and spinal cord injuries can occur - the most catastrophic of such involving damage to the cervical spine causing tetraplegia - when players’ heads are driven into the ground or hyperextended.
With this in mind, it is important that before proceeding with its plans to promote participation of high-risk collision sports such as rugby, the government needs to ensure there is an effective injury surveillance and prevention strategy in place such as the kind currently in place in leading rugby playing nations such as South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
In addition, schools have a duty of care towards their pupils to ensure coaching, refereeing and playing conditions are at a suitable standard and that Rugby Football Union rules concerning the prevention of children under the age of ten from tackling or forming scrums, are adhered to.
Paul Kitson is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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