Concussion and rugby: Should tackling be banned in schools?

Last updated at 15:37
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Do you think tackling in rugby should be banned in school?

Should rugby tackling be banned in schools? Two experts from Newcastle university think so.

Professor Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood are asking the UK's chief medical officers (CMOs) to protect children from injuries by removing this contact from the game.

They believe there is evidence to suggest that banning tackling could reduce the number of concussions, and head and neck injuries.

But World Rugby, which governs the sport, says this is "simply not supported by the data".

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It is a debate that has been rumbling on for a while and it isn't the first time that CMOs have been asked to ban tackling in school rugby. They were urged to do it last year, but it was rejected.

But what is concussion and why do some experts feel so strongly that tackling should be banned in schools because of it?

What is concussion?

Concussion is a type of head injury.

It happens when someone gets a significant bang on the head - so much that the brain is shaken and knocks against the inside of the skull.

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Concussion is a type of head injury that occurs when the brain knocks against the inside of the skull

This causes the nerves and structures in the brain to be altered, which means messages aren't sent around the brain in the right way.

If a person is concussed, there are ways it can be spotted. For example:

  • Visual signs: Looking dazed or confused, not moving, being slow or unsteady, behaving differently
  • Inability to answer questions such as what the time is or what they were doing last week
  • Physical symptoms: Headache, being sick, being sensitive to light or noise

It can be serious and it might take someone several days to recover if they have a very bad bang to the head.

Some people think that in order to get concussion, you have to be knocked unconscious - but that isn't true.

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The most common sports for concussion injuries are boxing, skiing, rugby and football

The most common sports for concussion injuries are boxing, skiing, rugby and football.

Sports medical experts agree that if a sports player is suspected of having concussion, they will be removed from the game.

Some experts think that the risk of children getting concussion from contact in rugby is too high - and therefore that tackling should not be allowed.

'For' banning tackling

Prof Pollock's report suggests there is evidence that banning tackling would reduce concussions, and head and neck injuries.

She outlined that rugby had the highest concussion rates for children, when compared to sports like ice hockey or American football - both of which involve physical contact too.

Girls playing rugbyGetty Images
Prof Pollock said that if children do want to play rugby with tackling, they can join a club outside of school

Her report also highlighted a potential link between head injuries and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease later in life, saying it is the government's duty to "protect children from risks of injury and to ensure safety of children".

It isn't the first time that Prof Pollock has called on the authorities to address the issue of head injuries in the sport. In a report for the British Medical Journal in 2014, she talked about how serious injuries can also happen in rugby scrums.

It is not just rugby at schools that is affected by a debate around concussion. People have spoken out about concussion in rugby at a professional level too.

How to deal with concussion among professional players continues to be debatedReuters

In April 2017, brain injury expert Dr Willie Stewart told BBC Sport Scotland that the number of players suffering concussion at the top level is "unacceptably high".

In July 2017, experts from five sports - rugby union, rugby league, American football, ice hockey, and Australian rules football - met to discuss how they could work together to deal with concussion and head injuries in their sports.

So it is an important issue for many people.

'Against' banning tackling

In response to Prof Pollock's report, World Rugby has said that it is unaware of new evidence to suggest that banning tackling in schools needs to happen.

It said the report is "extreme and alarmist", and that what she is saying is not backed up by scientific information.

Prof Tara Spires-Jones, an expert from the University of Edinburgh, agreed that while people should be careful playing sports where there is a risk of head injuries, the scientific evidence isn't strong enough yet.

"The data on specifically whether playing rugby or other contact sports in school increases your risk of dementia are not as robust yet due to a lack of large prospective studies," she said.

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Many say the benefits of playing rugby outweigh the risks of injury, as not playing sport and being inactive can cause other health problems.

Brain injury expert Dr Alan Carson believes experts should think very hard before bringing in rules which could mean less children want to take part in sport.

"The health crisis facing Britain's children is not concussion, but obesity and lack of exercise," he said.

Many argue that tackling is a key part of playing the game and banning tackling could discourage children from getting involved.