Breaking Traditions: Should Scrums And Tackling Be Banned In School Rugby?

Steven Coney

With the rise in technology over recent times, more and more data is being collected and analysed when it comes to safety in sport. One of the most recent scientific studies has led to academics calling for schools to ban tackling and scrums in rugby to protect children from the risk of concussion and later brain damage.

Rugby isn’t the first sport to be delved into. A study by the University of Stirling earlier this year suggested heading a football caused instant, short-term changes to the brain.

Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, threw his weight behind calls for a ‘heading ban’ in Under 10s games but no such move has been made yet.

Some people will see this latest appeal as another sign of overprotection when it comes to the next generation, an extension of the ‘wrap them up in cotton wool’ culture. But surely something that increases the safety of children can only be a good thing, right?

“They will want to ban walking to school next. And only rubber pens and pencils to be used in class. What is the world coming to.”

– Rugby referee Nigel Owens

Professor Allyson Pollock, from Newcastle University, has provided new evidence that suggests rugby has the highest sporting concussion rates in children.

In rugby there were 4.18 concussions per 1,000 athlete exposures compared to 1.2 for ice hockey and 0.53 for American football. The UK’s chief medical officers rejected a call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby last year, citing a report which claimed rugby was no more dangerous than other sports.

Pollock and Graham Kirkwood, also from Newcastle University, however, say the British government has “a duty to protect children from risks of injury and to ensure safety of children”.

With more and more children failing to get their recommended amount of daily exercise, will a ban on scrums and tackling in school rugby affect interest in the sport and feed into the wider health problems?

People against the ban will claim yes. But it’s important to note that not all students will want to play rugby and even fewer will relish the heavy contact in the sport.

“It feels like an attack on schools’ rugby and the professional game of rugby. Schools have a responsibility to look after children but for me it comes down to the quality of coaching. A carpet ban would be absurd.”

– Former England international Matt Perry

Those children who welcome the physical side of the game will still be able to play contact rugby outside of school for their clubs – but would not playing at school reduce their level of skill and subsequently make injuries more likely?

There will need to be plenty more research done before a ban like this is implemented as it could be the start of a dangerous slippery slope. World Rugby has responded, saying Pollock’s finds are “simply not supported by the data”.

These stories always elicit passionate responses and bring out the partisan side of both arguments. At the end of the day, child safety and wellbeing must be the number one priority. Some people could do well to remember that.

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