Is rugby the most dangerous sport?


With England about to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup it’s expected that hundreds of children will be inspired to get out on the field and give the historic sport a try (no pun intended). This in turn will inspire hundreds of parents around the country to debate whether they actually want their children playing a game where they might end up in things like a ‘scrum’, a 10-man ‘ruck’ or at the centre of a ‘maul’. There’s no doubting that a lot of parent’s reservations are justified considering some of the horrendous injuries that we have seen to professional rugby players over the years.

In June 2014 Cardiff Blues centre Owen Williams sustained significant spinal cord injury during the inaugural World Club 10s and remains in hospital. Again in 2014, 22-year-old Knights back-rower Alex McKinnon broke his neck in a tackle, ending up in a coma and suffering potentially permeant tetraplegia (paralysis of the limbs). In March 2005 England Under-21 prop Matt Hampson became quadriplegic from a scrum accident during training and back in 1995 Ivory Coast winger Max Brito was paralysed for life after a ruck collapsed on him.

Over 110 players in Britain alone have ended up paralysed from the sport. Compare that to the tens of thousands of people who have played the sport over the years and it is of course a tiny minority, but the fear factor is always there, especially for parents. Rugby isn’t a dangerous sport, but like all contact sport there are always risks and while the risks of injury are just as high in football, the type of injuries sustained in rugby can be far more serious.

Engage Mutual, sponsors of the Super League, conducted a survey into rugby league injuries and revealed the most common injuries sustained by rugby league players were injuries such as dislocated shoulders (26.5%), rotator cuff injuries (11.8%) ligament damage/sprains (17.7%) and medial cruciate ligament tears (11.8%). These painful injuries put alongside the tiny risk of paralysis and the fact that in 2000 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that rugby union injuries had doubled since the game turned professional, could be enough to scare most parents into not allowing their children to even start playing rugby in any form.

Parents can be rest assured though that the RFU is doing everything it can in the UK to ensure the safe introduction of children into the sport. On their website they state that: “Finding the most appropriate introduction for young players into rugby union is the most important issue, and the RFU is committed to helping this happen.” Without evoking the passion of a new generation the game will of course have no future. The RFU and the UK government both consider anyone under the age of 18 to be classed as a child when it comes to rugby and so have many regulations in place to protect them. The RFU has introduced its own safeguarding policies and also safeguarding courses.

There are also types of rugby specific insurance available for clubs, teams and individuals, both amateur and professional alike, so that someone can be on hand to make sure that injuries and risks are dealt with in the proper manner when playing home and away. These are definitely worth exploring if your child is about to begin playing on a regular basis.

Another thing that parents can do is ensure that if their children want to play rugby league or rugby union that they have the correct equipment and protective kit. This can mean purchasing studded rugby boots (not normal football boots), a head guard (compulsory for junior levels), shoulder pads, a forearm guard, shin-pads and stik mits (gloves for holding the ball securely).

Finally for parents with serious reservations regarding the sport, go down to your child’s school or local club and talk through the safety aspects of the game with their teacher or coach. Anyone involved in the game would be more than happy to calm any fears that a parent is bound to have around such a physical sport. They will also be able to inform you when the laws of the game will change as your child goes through the school years so that you are completely aware of the risks that may be involved in their participation.

Bluefin Sport is one of the UK’s leading independent insurance brokers, providing specialist insurance and risk management services to individuals and businesses.

One thought on “Is rugby the most dangerous sport?

  1. A Neath RFC player was aged 28 when he died as a result of a neck injury sustained in a ruck in a game v Cardiff and this article lists many of the high profile incidents where neck and spinal cord injuries have occurred in our sport going back at least to poor Max Brito in the 1995 RWC.

    Compared to football, rugby union is much more dangerous and the obsession with muscle-building for power play over better skills development means we may well see more and more players injured in such a horrible way.

    Quite frankly when you see the front rows go down as often as they do it is a miracle that more people are injured. In the old days props went backwards but never down-today they go down too too easily to avoid being shoved off the ball.

    Maybe the law-makers can step in and make deliberate collapsing an immediate yellow card offence?

    I suspect NFL is more dangerous given the huge compensation that ex-players won for concussion injuries. Many ex-NFL players don’t get beyond their 6s or even their 50s.

    I suspect that we may not know the full extent of concussion in rugby until players like Shontayne Hape and Brian O’Driscoll read their 60s.

    Unfortunately for too many it will be too late by then.

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