Doctors warn over dangerous sports practice in schools

A number of health professionals and academics have called on the government to ban the practice of tackling in rugby matches played in UK and Irish schools.

In an open letter to ministers, doctors and children’s commissioners warned that some of the consequences from this kind of ‘high-impact collision sport’ can have lifelong consequences for children. The letter claims that two thirds of injuries in youth rugby and most concussions are a result of tackling, and urges schools to move towards touch and non-contact rugby.

However supporters of the practice have argued that rugby builds character and that other forms are less challenging. The news comes as the Rugby Football Union (RFU) is set to continue its seven-year programme introducing rugby to a million children in state schools across England.

The programme was launched in 2012 and has reached 400 schools so far. It is set to run until 2019.

However the letter to ministers warned that the risks for players aged under 18 are high, with many schools in the UK offering contact rugby as a compulsory part of the physical education curriculum from age 11 and upwards.

The letter said: "The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum. These injuries, which include fractures, ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries and head injuries can have short-term, lifelong and life-ending consequences for children.

"With regard to the incidence of concussion, the letter highlights a link between ‘repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities."

Commenting on the letter, the RFU claimed that it took player safety ‘extremely seriously’. A spokeswoman said: "We believe that rugby is a fantastic sport for children with many physical and social benefits, which can include an increase in confidence, self-esteem and self-discipline, as well as getting enjoyable physical exercise while working as part of a team.

”Teachers frequently comment on notable off-pitch improvements when the sport is introduced in their schools."

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