World Rugby have been told to issue swinging punishments for teams who fail to crack down on contact training.
Concussion campaign group Progressive Rugby have issued a set of recommendations to the world governing body, including for fines and points deductions to be issued against countries and clubs for non-compliance with return-to-play protocols.
Progressive Rugby comprises clinical experts, ex-professionals, coaches and academics, with former Test players James Haskell, Dan Scarbrough, Tim Stimpson, Alix Popham, Ben Alexander, Rory Lamont and Kyran Bracken among its members.
Urging World Rugby to “hit the reset button right now”, the lobby group have called for the following measures to be brought into the game:
- Minimum 21-day non-negotiable blank stand down after a brain injury, regardless of elite player’s concussion history
- Failure of in-game HIA1 to trigger minimum 21-day period
- Mandated weekly ‘bone on bone’ (no pads) contact training limit of 15 minutes
- Game limit reduced by 20 per cent to 25 games (or match equivalent minutes) and mandated
- Stiff punishments including club/country fines and points deductions for non-compliance
- Minimum eight-week protected annual rest including at least two weeks in-season, with a further five-week break between seasons and additional one week to be used at any time
- Injury replacements only to eliminate collisions between fatigued and fresh players
Additional measures suggested by the group include establishment of a global calendar, mandatory annual brain injury education, brain injury health passports, maximum tackle height at nipple line, further investigation of law changes around rucks and tackle area to protect against exposure to impacts to the head and neck area and abolition of 20-minute red card to provide a consistent deterrent.
The announcement follows last week’s news that over 185 former players are currently part of legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union.
World Rugby are understood to have disagreed with Progressive Rugby over some of the listed points when the two parties have spoken in the past, given some of recommendations do not correlate with the evidence available including reducing the number of replacements in matches and the need for a 21-day mandatory stand-down period, which is not supported by Dr Bob Cantu, part of World Rugby’s Independent Concussion Working Group.
Certain recommendations however such as the limit to contract training each week are agreed upon, with World Rugby currently waiting to validate data from recently-introduced smart mouthguards before making a decision on whether to further limit the amount of contact training per week. Both parties also agreed that the 20-minute red card, which is set to be used in the Rugby Championship in the coming weeks, should not be part of either a global trial or the laws of the game.
However communication between Progressive Rugby and World Rugby has now been discontinued given Progressive Rugby’s wider links to the ongoing legal case against World Rugby, the RFU and WRU.
Progressive Rugby’s Professor John Fairclough said: “There is now no other option but to drastically reduce the number of impacts a player receives over their career and take extreme caution with the management of players who do suffer brain injuries.”
A World Rugby Spokesperson said: “World Rugby has vowed never to stand still on player welfare and is unwavering in its commitment to advancing welfare, always guided by the science, research and independent expert input.
“World Rugby has engaged positively with Progressive Rugby for over 12 months on a range of topics. And while the group’s connections with the legal proceedings mean direct dialogue is no longer possible, we will continue to listen to and engage with the rugby community through numerous groups that it is involved with and will continue to follow the science and evidence in helping ensure that rugby is the most progressive sport in the world in this area.
“As Progressive Rugby is aware, the smart mouthguard trials will help validate implementation of the contact training load guidance prior to further evaluation, while both limiting replacements and a mandated stand down period are not supported by either the research or independent expert advice.”