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Player safety lawsuit hangs over upcoming Rugby World Cup

Last year, more than 100 former Rugby players took legal action against World Rugby over alleged failure to protect them from permanent injury. As the Rugby World Cup approaches in September, that lawsuit still looms over it.

Many of the rugby players involved in the lawsuit are afflicted with brain disorders such as early onset dementia, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease in their 30s and 40s. They posit that Rugby governing bodies failed to take reasonable measures to protect them from head injuries.

According to annual injury audits in English rugby, concussions in rugby occur at a rate of about one per game.

The similarities between this and cases brought against the NFL, which in 2013 settled an extremely costly lawsuit, related to the very same issues in football. However, rugby lacks the hard helmets and padding of football, as well as an independent players union to oversee safety guidelines –a feature the NFL relies upon heavily.  Rugby sees many more dangerous collisions and contact between players as a result.

While World Rugby has made strides to improve player safety – such as stricter penalties for high tackles and head targeting, and adopting a special mouth guard to detect concussion biomarkers – critics contend that these regulations remain flawed.

“There’s always competing interests when it comes to sports and professional associations,” said Chris Nowinski, former football player and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “What’s best for business is the guys playing (hundreds of) days a year and never taking a day off for brain injuries.”

Players involved in the World Rugby lawsuit include Steve Thompson (England), Alix Popham (Wales), Carl Hayman (New Zealand) and numerous others, represented by Rylands Legal.

“The players we represent love the game,” Rylands Legal said at the time of the initial filing. “We aim to challenge the current perceptions of the governing bodies, to reach a point where they accept the connection between repetitive blows to the head and permanent neurological injury and to take steps to protect players and support those who are injured.”

(Photo courtesy of World Rugby)


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