McHale & Co. Solicitors Blog

Concussion 'is putting rugby players at serious risk'

Concussion is the new buzz word in the world of Rugby Union, with ever increasing amounts of research suggesting that the guidelines set by the International Rugby Board are below par and putting players at all levels of the game at risk of serious injury and potentially death.  Only recently the tragic case of amateur player Kenny Nuzum has been reported who died aged just 57 of chronic encephalopathy (CTE), i.e. punch drunk syndrome caused as a result of multiple blows to the head during games.  A brief glance on search engines brings up other tragic cases as well as numerous professional players whose careers have been cut short because of concussion mismanagement. 


As a player myself it has to be said that concussion is often seen as a minor injury and in the realms of such a rough and manly sport, something that you should just ‘man up’ and get on with it.  But put simply, concussion is a brain injury and the more people realise that suffering such injuries over and over again can be potentially deadly, the quicker we can create the much needed uproar over what many describe as the laughable guidelines in place. 


Repeated concussions can accumulate to cause permanent damage and the more times it is suffered and improperly treated, the more at risk you become.  Ex-pro Shontayne Hape, who played across both codes both at club level and internationally, was recently forced to retire after being told that his brain was so traumatised that even a tap to the head would knock him out.  I am currently representing another ex-pro whose career too was ended as a result of mismanagement of concussion.  


What is truly shocking is the information that is passed down to the amateur arena, or more appropriately the lack of such information.  On speaking with clubs it would appear that most are not even aware of how to diagnose concussion, or at least suspect concussion in order to remove the player from the field.  For those who do know, some have bullishly told me that at the junior levels they have the concussion problem at hand and insist upon scrum caps to prevent the problem.  What they don’t know is that scrum caps do not prevent concussion, as the brain upon impact will still move within the skull irrespective of whether the head is padded.  Indeed some experts argue that scrum caps could even increase the risk of concussion as players consider them as a safety blanket when considering whether to go into that crunching tackle, ruck, or maul.        


It would appear that neurological experts are being ignored by the sport and the longer this continues, the worse the problem will become. We need to take a leaf out of the American’s book and seek a compensatory fund to assist those players who do succumb to this awful injury, as is the case with the National Football League.  But first we need to ensure the IRB and other governing bodies in similar sports change their direction in the treatment of such injuries and accept that this is not a problem that will go away lightly. 


Matthew Bell is a Partner in the Litigation Department of McHale and Co.  He works with a lot of clients who have suffered brain injuries including those suffered in a sporting context. 


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