Pressure mounts on RFU to release head injury data following allegations of concussion negligence

·3 min read
Steve Thompson - GETTY IMAGES
Steve Thompson - GETTY IMAGES

The Rugby Football Union is coming under mounting pressure to publish its most up-to-date head-injury data in the wake of the concussion negligence allegations that have rocked the sport.

The annual reports, which are pivotal in providing baseline data to assess injury trends, were expected to be published in January this year, but have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Concussion was the most commonly reported injury in the men’s and women’s Premierships during 2017-18. It accounted for a fifth off all match injuries in the men’s game – 140, down from 169 in 2016-17.

Head injuries also accounted for nearly a fifth of all recorded injuries in the Premier 15s’ inaugural 2017-18 season. Only six out of 10 clubs submitted data.

Luke Griggs, the deputy chief executive of the brain injury association, Headway, said it was crucial that both the men’s and women’s game had access to the latest data.

“Modern-day rugby is very data-driven,” Griggs said. “This can be helpful in understanding the nature of contact and identifying injury trends, which can in turn play a useful role in informing decision making, both in terms of tactics and also injury prevention.”

Rugby Nerd REFERRAL (article)
Rugby Nerd REFERRAL (article)

In a statement, the RFU said it took player welfare “incredibly seriously”, adding: “As a result of our focus in welfare and specifically concussion, we have been able to develop our approach to concussion surveillance, concussion education, concussion management and concussion prevention across the whole game. The introduction of the Premier 15s three years ago and the 28 full-time England contracts has allowed us to improve concussion surveillance, education and management specifically within the women’s game.

“We will continue to work with World Rugby and external academic institutions and other sports to develop targeted research programmes across all areas of the game.”

Research by Swansea University – which is due to be published this month – has found that female players are more likely to be concussed from hitting their heads on the ground rather than in a heavy collision. The latter has long been attributed to concussions in the professional male game.

On Wednesday, Kat Merchant, the 2014 England World Cup winner, became the second former women’s player to voice concerns about living with early onset dementia.

Merchant retired on doctors’ advice at 28 after experiencing 11 reported concussions in 14 seasons. While the now 35-year-old has lower cognitive capacity, she is not considering joining the lawsuit filed by eight former male professionals against rugby’s authorities.

“My main concern is, am I going to get early onset dementia? If I do, how am I going to earn money, how am I going to get support, who’s going to put me in care?” Merchant told the BBC.

It follows revelations from former Wasps Ladies player Nic Evans, who last week told Telegraph Sport she had experienced “hundreds” of concussions during her nine-year career and is now concerned about developing early onset dementia.

Why women are more prone to concussion than men
Why women are more prone to concussion than men