World Rugby hits back over concussion lawsuits and questions legal action

Speaking to Telegraph Sport, Gilpin has now revealed that World Rugby hopes to convince those players who are part of the legal action, or weighing up joining, that the governing body will do more to ensure the best possible systems are in place to support retiring players concerned by the risk of degenerative brain disease.

“We always say that anyone who has been in a rugby family never leaves it, and we have to demonstrate that to the players who feel that’s not the case. I can definitely say personally not a day or hour goes by in the job that I do where we are not thinking about these issues. It’s our number one priority for a good reason,” Gilpin explains.

“We’re focused on head contact, to make the game safe and make sure we do the right thing by players. We know that high contact in the tackle leads to the most concussions in the game, so we’ve had a big drive through law change, officiating and the way we teach tackle technique.”

Risks to elite pros not the same at grass-roots

Discussions around concussion and reducing head impacts remain a “very detailed, complex area”, Gilpin points out, but the governing body is eager to stress that head impacts in the community game “are not comparable” to professional players.

Findings from an extensive study undertaken by the University of Otago and New Zealand Rugby, set to be published by the end of the year, are expected to reinforce that head impacts in community and age-grade rugby are “very dissimilar to the elite level of the game”.

Gilpin adds: “Those important experiences of former elite international rugby players are being conflated into the question of whether it’s safe for my son or daughter to play mini rugby, and they are two different debates.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our global playing population in the sport are not playing at the elite, professional level. We’re confident that the type of head impacts that are occurring in the community game are not comparable to what’s happening in the elite game.”

Why mandatory stand-down periods won’t work

Gilpin, who succeeded Brett Gosper as chief executive officer in January last year, has a lot on his plate when it comes to player safety, even though dialogue with the lobby group Progressive Rugby has come to a close in the midst of the legal proceedings. While the two parties have met for discussions in the past, there remain issues where both sides are wide apart.

“[Progressive Rugby] would like to see a different approach to the return-to-play protocols,” Gilpin explains. “Mandatory stand-downs… they understand why we don’t believe that’s right for the sport and we do believe the individualized return-to -play protocols are the correct way, because history will show that mandatory stand downs drive under-reporting of concussions, and we absolutely don’t want players not to come forward and report concussion symptoms because they’re worried about missing the next two or three games.

“We want concussions to be recognized and reported properly and players to be cared for based on their own factors, which is why there’s been this further evolution of the return-to-play protocols which take into account players’ concussion history, both immediate and longer term and periods of return to play are adjusted accordingly.

“That’s not driven by World Rugby making those decisions in a dark room, it’s the independent concussion expert group that we have driving those decisions based on the latest science.”


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