Northern Ireland

Rugby boy Ryan makes appeal to Irish rugby chiefs over ban on wearing goggles

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Media captionRyan said he is disappointed that he has been kicked out of rugby because of "the way he was made"

A seven-year-old boy who has been told he cannot play rugby because he wears goggles to improve his vision when playing has appealed to the sport's chiefs to let him back into the game.

Ryan Totten's poor eyesight means he is unable to play sport without eyewear.

But the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), the game's governing body in Ireland, says he cannot take part in matches due to health and safety fears.

Now the County Antrim schoolboy wants the IRFU to change its stance.

Ryan has been playing tag rugby at his hometown club Coleraine for three years.

Image caption Ryan has been playing tag rugby for three years and now wants to move into contact sport

During that time has worn sports goggles that meet British and EU safety standards as he is too young to wear contact lenses.

But now he has reached the age he can take part in rugby involving contact between players, the whistle has been blown on his fledgling playing career.

Embarrassed

At a tournament in April, he was told to leave the pitch due to an IRFU ruling that bans players of all ages from wearing eyewear of any kind during play.

Ryan's mother Christine Totten said he was "upset, embarrassed and disappointed" that he was prevented from taking part.

Image caption Ryan wears goggles that meet EU safety standards as he is too young to wear contact lenses

"All his friends were able to play on and Ryan was removed from the middle of the game," Mrs Totten said.

"When he got home, he said he got kicked out of rugby - these are his words - 'because of the way he was made'."

But the rules are different across the UK.

In Scotland children can play rugby while wearing goggles, and the Rugby Football Union in England started a trial of the eyewear last season when it received complaints after introducing a ban on them.

Friends

World Rugby, the game's global governing body, has been running a separate trial of goggles for players with sight problems at all levels of the game.

Image caption The IRFU has not taken part in a trial of sports goggles in rugby led by the game's governing body

But the IRFU decided not to take part in the tests.

Ryan said he was "really disappointed and really, really sad" that he cannot play in matches with his friends.

"They said that I can't play because I wear sports goggles," he said.

"Please can I play again? I really, really, really want to."

Former Ulster and Ireland rugby player Willie Anderson said the IRFU should answer Ryan's call to change its policy.

Image caption Willie Anderson said it was unlikely eyewear would cause a safety issue at the sport's junior level

He said it was unlikely a health and safety issue would arise in games involving young children that are generally played at a low pace.

Inclusive

"It's very disappointing for him. He's obviously very keen," Mr Anderson said.

"For someone like Ryan there is not going to be much high-impact when he is doing contact rugby at this point in time."

The IRFU defended its position on eyewear, saying it "must prioritise player safety at all times".

Image caption Kevin O'Neill said a simple change to the IRFU's law would make the game more inclusive

It added that its policy on eyewear would be reviewed after it sees the results of World Rugby's trial period.

Kevin O'Neill, the chief executive of Disability Sports Northern Ireland, said there had been a failure by the IRFU to make a "reasonable adjustment" to allow those with a sight impairment to play the game.

"It's all about having a reasonable level of risk. The goggles have been designed to be totally safe," he said.

"From our perspective it's very ironic because a simple change to the sport would enable a whole range of people, including Ryan, to participate."

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