By George Hartrey – reporter
When the news broke on Wednesday morning that a group of over 70 medical experts had written to the government about their concerns on tackling in school rugby, the world of one of Britain’s most popular sports was shocked.
The open letter, which highlighted a 28% chance of being injured in rugby before the age of 18, was written in the hope of seeing tackling banned from the sport until the players reached adulthood – “touch” or “tag” rugby is the proposed alternative.
The question is whether this will create a safer environment for school children to play in, or will it increase the danger once players turn 18, unfamiliar with the correct technique to upend their opponent?
Rugby has been played at school level since the 19th century, and even to this day the professional game relies upon players gaining experience throughout their education before joining academies.
The issue has arisen after plans were announced by the Rugby Football Union to introduce rugby in to 750 state schools across the United Kingdom – with 400 adopting the sport since 2012 and the remaining 350 to take it up in the coming years.
The letter explains children could be at risk of various injuries which include “fractures, ligamentous tears and spinal injuries” presenting short-term or life-threatening consequences.
Despite the current statistics which might support a ban of tackling, there is risk associated with any contact sport.
A better standard of teaching and participants paying more interest in what they’re being taught would seem to be a more appropriate solution.
In light of the claims about long-term injuries leading to depression, England Rugby tweeted a simple graphic that explained the benefits of physical activity, including a 30% reduction in mental conditions such as depression.
As would’ve been expected, the proposition has not gone down well with the rugby community.
Whilst there is an element of risk, it is just like other sports according to the RFU.
They go on to say stripping down rules to address the concerns of the minority will very likely endanger our proud history of competitive sporting achievement.
There is middle ground, however.
While tackling is part of the game that millions love to play and watch, heavy collisions have been at the centre of investigations in to contact sports of recent years.
The risk of a player become concussed, which is one of the most common injuries in rugby, could be reduced if tackling was banned.
However, this is something which is more likely to affect players during the scrum, another key part of the game, provoking more rule changes and subsequently transforming the sport as we know it.
The key to prioritising safety in the game lies in the coaching – if kids are given proper tuition in a way that is fun yet informative, whilst keeping the player’s safety at the forefront, there’s no reason why rugby can’t remain as a contact sport for children.
After a miserable performance from England at their own World Cup last year, these reforms are in no way the solution to reigniting the success of one of the country’s oldest sports.