Haskell leads calls for 'urgent reform' to reduce risk of brain damage

Former England star James Haskell leads group of ex-players, coaches, referees and doctors calling for ‘urgent reform’ to reduce risk of brain damage because ‘without change rugby is threatened with extinction’

  • Nine ex-players diagnosed with dementia have launched landmark legal action
  • They claim the authorities failed to protect them from risks of concussion 
  • Haskell and ex-Canada forward Jamie Cudmore have set up Progressive Rugby
  • The group warns that without change ‘the sport is threatened with extinction’ 

James Haskell is leading a new lobby group of current and former players, coaches, referees and doctors calling for ‘urgent reform’ in rugby union to reduce the risk of brain damage.

The group, named Progressive Rugby, has been formed in the wake of the legal action lodged against World Rugby, the RFU and Welsh Rugby last year by nine former players who are showing symptoms of dementia.

Progressive Rugby warns that ‘without change the sport is threatened with extinction within a couple of generations’ and has written an open letter to World Rugby outlining a suggested plan of action.

James Haskell is leading the calling for ‘urgent reform’ to reduce the risk of brain damage.

The group has also called for talks with senior figures at World Rugby to discuss ‘how we can work together to get control of this issue that threatens the very future of our game’.

Ex-England flanker Haskell has founded the group with former Canada international Jamie Cudmore, who is already suing French side Clermont Auvergne in a separate case over the harm he suffered from concussion.

The letter, a direct response to World Rugby chief Sir Bill Beaumont’s own open letter in December, has 28 signatories, including 2003 World Cup winners Steve Thompson – who is part of the class-action lawsuit – and Kyran Bracken.

Others showing their support are current Wales international Josh Navidi, Welsh legend and broadcaster Jonathan Davies, Ireland’s 1997 Lions hero Paul Wallace and ex-England women’s captain Catherine Spencer.

Wales international Josh Navidi (above) has backed the call for talks with World Rugby

Chris Bryant MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Acquired Brain Injury, and former World Rugby medical adviser Dr Barry O’Driscoll have also signed as part of the group.

The letter says the game’s governing body has a ‘moral and legal duty to minimise risk and to inform players and parents of the risk of brain damage from repeated knocks’, describing it as ‘the greatest threat to the worldwide game’.

It adds: ‘Whilst we acknowledge the importance of continuing well-constructed longitudinal prospective research, the rapidly accumulating anecdotal evidence has reached a point that the answer is to err on the side of caution. The current and future generations of players require urgent action to be assured that they will be adequately protected and cared for.’

The letter outlines a number of changes Progressive Rugby believes ‘World Rugby should facilitate to our game as a matter of urgency’.

Haskell and former Canada international Jamie Cudmore have founded Progressive Rugby

It calls for a limit on contact in training, a review of the upper level of tackle height, restricting substitutes for injury only and a limit to the number of annual international matches for players.

Other recommendations include extending the minimum time before returning from a concussion to three weeks and setting up a concussion database, concussion fund and health passport for players.

Rugby medic O’Driscoll said: ‘We all love the game of rugby and want to see it continue in the long term. However, the game as it is, is broken, with many more players likely to end up with neurological impairments in the future.’ 

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