Rugby in schools is a form of child abuse, experts say

2 February 2024, 09:17 | Updated: 2 February 2024, 13:49

Parents fail to understand the enormous risks of brain injury to their children when playing rugby, a study has warned
Parents fail to understand the enormous risks of brain injury to their children when playing rugby, a study has warned. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Rugby is a form of child abuse and children should be banned from playing it, according to a study.

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Researchers say children should be banned from contact sports, including rugby and boxing, because the long-term risks of brain injury is not properly understood by parents.

A paper, set to be published in Sports, Ethics & Philosophy: Journal of the British Philosophy of Sport Association cites the view that knocks to the head can go on to lead to conditions like dementia or Parkinson’s later in life.

Those who begin playing rugby as children are more likely to risk brain trauma than those who start later in life, the study argues.

Eric Anderson, a professor of sport at the University of Winchester who led the study, told the Times: “Sports for children should not intentionally harm their brains. They should focus on fun, health and social development rather than conditioning them to play elite-level sport.

“These collisions cause cognitive harm and increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and dementia; they are therefore abusive to a child’s brain.”

A spokeswoman for the Rugby Football Union (RFU) said player welfare was the organisation’s “top priority”.

“PE in school is compulsory,” she said.

“However, rugby is not. The RFU and England Rugby Football Schools’ Union work closely to support teachers and coaches with guidance and resources, especially around players’ safety and welfare.

The England team stand for the national anthem before last season's six nations clash with Italy. This year's competition begins tomorrow
The England team stand for the national anthem before last season's six nations clash with Italy. This year's competition begins this weekend. Picture: Alamy

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“Rugby for young people at schools or clubs in England exists in different forms — contact, reduced contact and non-contact. Rugby has established and been at the forefront of concussion and injury surveillance, education and law changes using evidence to proactively manage player welfare.

“Playing rugby provides significant physical and mental-health benefits along with life skills gained from playing a team sport which has strong values. Against a backdrop of decreased physical activity and a global obesity epidemic in children, we believe rugby has a role to play in keeping people active, healthy and engaged.”

Former rugby union player Ugo Monye told LBC News: "Anyone that knows anything about rugby or works within it knows that contact is something which is graduated and in line with children and their behaviour as well as their maturity. So no child is given a ball age 6 and asked to complete attack or go into a scrum. That is something that is gradually built into the Game.

“You can do everything to protect kids from themselves and protect themselves and try and mitigate against risk, but there's a risk involved in everything. There's a risk involved in soft playing. Some of these head acceleration events that happen to the head in rugby and some sports like football or the rest of it. You also see in soft play - should we ban gymnastics and trampolining and everything? You can't fully insulate children.

“We have one of the worst obesity rates in Europe, one in seven kids by the age of 10 are obese. We know this generation have a lower life expectancy than the previous generation. We need our kids to understand the values for not just in terms of skill and technically and health, but also the life skills in terms of team.”

The report comes as rugby fans gear up for the Six Nations.

Last years champions and runner-up - Ireland and France - will meet in Marseilles.

England will begin their campaign against Italy in Rome while Wales play Scotland in Cardiff.

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