Saving children’s brains

This age is that of hyper-competition in almost everything we do. Although we, in or near Europe often laugh at many of the EU’s safety regulations — as though trying to neutralise all possible risk from daily life — there’s little doubt that some activities have gone beyond the pale. Among these I include rugger — whether Rugby League protocol or Rugby Union.

In recent years, both forms of the game have become brutalised with increasing numbers of bone fractures and dislocations per game — and, much more seriously, higher chances than ever of brain concussion and permanent damage. I feel strongly because at school I was forced to play rugger and I hated it, regarding it as having little skill compared with soccer.

All this is coming to a head — literally so ! — with the increasing amount of evidence now coming from brain scans that senility or ‘punch-drunkness’ is far more frequent than realised so far.  Now that the Rugby Football Union (RFU) are in the middle of a programme to introduce the game in 750 schools, it has now induced chief medical officers and children’s commissioners in the country to respond by writing a strong letter to the government saying that the risks are too high, particularly in scrums.   ” . . . injuries, which include fractures, ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries and head injuries can have short-term, lifelong and life-ending  consequences for children.”

I would also ban the heading of the ball — at the referee’s discretion — in soccer, too. It is one thing for a player to deflect a corner kick or centre pass into the goal. It is quite another to head a ball coming down from a great height after a 70 or 80-yard kick from the goalkeeper. The two situations are quite distinct and the latter, over a full-time career, has already been implicated with too many ex-professional players suffering from senility in mid-age. We need more evidence concerning the soccer game.

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