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Garreth Carvell, the head of the Rugby League Players’ Association, believes the sport is facing a “potential crisis” over concussion and claims that Super League players are defying advice to retire due to head injuries.
It is understood that lawyers representing the likes of 2003 World Cup winner Steve Thompson in their legal action against rugby union believe athletes from other sports will join their lawsuit next year. The Daily Telegraph revealed the brutality of rugby league when former Hull Kingston Rovers centre Andrew Heffernan spoke of his retirement in 2018 at the age of 23.
The Australian suffered repeated concussions during games and, as he continues his recovery, admits he cannot rule out having sustained permanent brain damage.
Carvell, the former Warrington Wolves, Hull and Great Britain forward, says he is aware of players who, like Heffernan, have suffered numerous concussions but are playing on regardless.
Carvell said: “Rugby league is facing a potential crisis over concussions. The Rugby Football League has gone a long way in trying to mitigate against that with the much-improved protocols that are now in place. But the nature of the sport would suggest that head knocks are going to continue, so it’s important that we continue the aftercare and the preventive measures to ensure the safety of players as much as possible. There are players who have been asked to consider another career because of the amount of head knocks they have taken and the damage it could do down the line. It’s very real, and it’s happening as we speak.
“The RFL has improved massively on concussion protocols. But there is still improvement to be made in the early diagnosis of something like early onset dementia, which can be passed off in the early stages as something else.
“Players have got to be honest with themselves, but there is a lot of pressure from coaches and the clubs, especially if you’re a key player. I’ve been concussed and then played the week after – still probably concussed – so this needs to be taken out of the players’ hands to a certain extent. That protocol needs to be put in place.”
Stevie Ward has spent his entire career with Leeds Rhinos, but it remains to be seen if he will play again after a succession of head knocks. His contract at Leeds recently expired and Carvell revealed: “Stevie’s really struggling mentally, he’s in constant pain, and he can’t concentrate.
“He struggles to read and he can’t get a job because of all the above – and there are definitely more cases in the game like him.
“That’s another issue when you’re out of contract; you have no financial support, so what happens there?
“What I would have liked to have seen was my insurance being paid for, possibly by the RFL, Rugby League Cares or the club I was playing for, for the two years which followed my retirement. That would have allowed me to undergo medical treatment I needed on my knee, neck, foot and wrist.
“That’s what I’d like to see for players now; for them to be financially supported in this area for two years after they were forced into retirement. It’s something I’m speaking to the RFL about.”
Carvell also believes doctors on duty during Super League games should be employed by the RFL and not individual clubs.
He reasoned: “Doctors need to be employed by the RFL and not the clubs, so they’re not pressured into making decisions which could impact on players’ lives.
“I think this definitely needs to change.”