School Rugby: Tackle And Scrum Should Be Banned, Researchers Argue In The British Medical Journal

Ellen Wallwork

Tackle and other forms of “harmful contact” in rugby should be banned from school PE lessons, claim researchers writing in the British Medical Journal.

Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood from Newcastle University, say evidence shows that collision sports, such as youth rugby, carry high rates of injury.

They are calling on the government to “put the interests of the child before the interests of corporate professional rugby unions” and remove harmful contact from the school game. 

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Pollock and Graham Kirkwood explain in their BMJ article that a recent evidence review of youth sports found that rugby, ice-hockey and American football had the highest concussion rates in children.

They also list other ailments associated with head injury, including increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as an increase in violent behaviour and violent injury in adolescents.

Rather than calling on a ban on the entire sport, Pollock and Kirkwood state that rule changes could make a difference - citing Canada’s ban on ‘body-checking’ (intentional body contact) in under 13s ice-hockey, which led to a reduction in concussion risk.

However, they point out that evidence for other strategies to reduce concussion risk in sport, including the wearing of protective equipment such as mouthguards, is weak.

They also cite the Oxfordshire Rugby Football Schools Union Training Audit from October 2015,  which found that teacher training was lacking in concussion awareness and the skills of rugby.

In July 2016 the four UK chief medical officers (CMOs) rejected the call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby, citing a report which claimed rugby was no more injury prone than other sports.

But Pollock and Kirkwood argue that, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 19), “governments have a duty to protect children from risks of injury and to ensure the safety of children, which is why we are calling on CMOs to act now.”

Responding to the report a Department for Education spokesperson told HuffPost UK that the government would not be making any changes to PE lessons, as it does not prescribe a definitive list of the activities or sports that schools should offer their pupils; this is a matter for schools to decide.

“Schools have the flexibility to offer a diverse PE curriculum which suits the needs of their students,” they said.

“We expect schools to be aware of all of the risks associated with sporting activities and to provide a safe environment for pupils.

“There is expert advice available for schools on how to manage activities safely and reduce the risk of injuries and accidents. On top of this, staff should be given the information and training they need to manage risks effectively.”

The Association for Physical Education (AfPE) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents provide advice to schools on how to manage activities safely and reduce the risk of injuries and accidents.

Earlier this year the AfPE said it fully supports the inclusion of Rugby within National Curriculum Physical Education.

“Parents should be aware of what sports are taught in the schools they choose to send their children to,” they stated.

“If rugby is taught, then parents send their children to the school in the knowledge that they are likely to be asked to play rugby at some level.”