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Eight former international rugby players have teamed up to explore whether to pursue legal action against the sport’s authorities for negligence over brain injuries they sustained during their careers. The players claim World Rugby, the English Rugby Football Union, and the Welsh Rugby Union failed to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.
Richard Boardman, who is listed as an attorney representing the group, reportedly said that he is in contact with more than 100 players whose ages range from their 20s to their 50s, many of whom are showing symptoms of neurological problems. As told the BBC, Boardman said: “We are now in a position where we believe the governing bodies across the rugby world are liable for failing to adequately protect their players on this particular issue.” A claim of damages will be sent to the rugby governing bodies in Dec. 2020.
Brain injuries are extremely serious and require immediate medical attention. Even a minor concussion can lead to permanent cognitive and behavioral issues. The most serious brain injuries can result in permanent physical disability, paralysis, and even death. Unlike most body organs, the brain cannot heal itself by regenerating new cells.
Though this specific case pertains to the U.K., there were 61,131 cases of traumatic brain injury-related deaths in the U.S. in 2017, according to data quoted by Statista.
In a similar fashion, the NFL settled lawsuits in 2013 from thousands of former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems they said were caused by the on-field violence that fueled the game’s rise to popularity and profit. The settlement, which is expected to cost the NFL more than $1 billion, spared the league a trial over claims that it long hid what it knew about the link between concussions and brain injuries. The settlement fund is designed to cover more than 20,000 retirees suffering from brain disorders that include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The settlement, however, did not include an admission from the NFL that it hid information from players about head injuries.
However, World Rugby pointed out that there is a key difference to the legal action in the NFL in that hits to the head were never legal in rugby.
World Rugby reportedly told The Associated Press that it “takes player safety very seriously and implements injury-prevention strategies based on the latest available knowledge, research and evidence.” Though the organization did not comment on the players’ claims, it has made progress in recent years in developing concussion protocols to reduce the risks for players and is widely regarded as being ahead on the issue compared to sports like soccer and cricket.
A key member of England’s only Rugby World Cup triumph in 2003, hooker Steve Thompson was diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in Nov. He played in all of the team’s matches in the tournament, and yet said he has “no recollection of winning the World Cup in 2003, or of being in Australia for the tournament.”
“It was not uncommon for me to be left dazed, seeing white spots and not knowing where I was for a few seconds, sometimes I would pass out completely. It was just an accepted part and parcel of training,” he said.
“I really wished that I had ended my career earlier, maybe my diagnosis might not be so bleak.”