A new rugby lobby group, called Progressive Rugby, has written an open letter to the game's governing body, World Rugby, calling for urgent reforms to the sport.
The group, which consists of current and former players, coaches, club representatives, referees, medics, sponsors, politicians and teachers at rugby-playing schools and is being led by former internationals Jamie Cudmore and James Haskell, argue that the introduction of measures like limiting contact in training, the involvement of independent brain experts in the game and the introduction of health passports that follow players from club to club could help minimise the considerable risks rugby in its current form poses.
The group also says more should be done to inform parents about the risk of brain injury from repeated head knocks.
“World Rugby has a moral and legal duty to minimise risk,” reads Progressive Rugby's letter, “and to inform players and parents of the risk of brain damage from repeated knocks. Evidence of the existence of brain disorders in retired players supports the contention that participation in rugby union can cause brain damage. The awareness of the association with traumatic brain injury and participation in rugby union is of paramount importance for both the players and the sport itself.”
In response to the letter, World Rugby has said that many of the proposals brought forward by the group are already either in place or being actively considered.
"We are progressive," wrote World Rugby in a statement, "which is why as scientific and medical knowledge and societal understanding continues to evolve, rugby evolves with it. We are always guided by medical and scientific consensus to inform our concussion education, prevention and management strategies.
"We are encouraged that the group are championing a number of initiatives that are already operational or being considered and we are open to constructive discussions with them regarding their proposals."
In the background of the back and forth between Progressive and World Rugby, the sport's governing body is already subject to proceedings, brought by a number of former rugby union professionals, who allege that the sport has left them with permanent brain damage.
It is hoped that the combination of legal challenges and pressure from groups like Progressive Rugby will force the game to change in much the same way that the NFL did after it was subject to a class action suit by former players.
If that doesn't happen and the game stays as it is then, according to Progressive Rugby, it will be “threatened with extinction within a couple of generations”.
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