Should schools rugby be reduced to minimal or non-contact?

Prof Allyson Pollock argues “if rugby was a drug, it wouldn't be allowed on the market because of the amount of harm involved"

Should schools rugby be reduced to minimal or non-contact?

Image: Mike Egerton / PA Wire/Press Association Images

A public health expert has called on schools to ban tackling in rugby and urged them to move to touch and non-contact versions of the sport.

Professor Allyson Pollock, a professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University, London, was speaking in Sligo at the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation and urged schools to reconsider their stance on allowing young children to play full contact versions of the sport.

“We know that more than 80 to 90 per cent of injuries happen during collisions and about three-quarters occur during the tackle" she explained, "Because the risk is so high in children, you have to take it out.”

"We know from an Ulster study that out of 825 schoolboys in a season there were 426 injuries, most of them serious.

“Would you want your child to have a 36 per cent rate of injury in a season? Would you want them to have a 10 to 20 per cent chance of concussion in a season?”

Prof Pollock, author of Tackling Rugby: What Every Parent Should Know About Injuries, stressed that it wasn't professional athletes that are in consideration.

Referee Wayne Barnes signals a concussion injury to Cian Healy
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

"You have to have proper child representation," she said.

"The voice of children is never heard. Many children are terrified about playing. Many love the game, but many who hate the game are frightened.

"Letting World Rugby be in charge of schools rugby is like letting McDonald's be in charge of the school canteen."

Prof Pollock explained the impact increased concussion can have on general health and well-being: "We know with concussion that it has short-term effects - epilepsy, visual problems, headaches, cognitive problems and mental health problems, depression. We still don't under understand the full range of consequences.

“We forget children want to resemble the professional players. They do bodybuilding and take protein supplements that are injurious for health. They look like monsters but they’re disguising the fact that they’ve got fragile little bones."

Concussion has been linked with the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and has been a hot topic in the past year due to the increased levels of concussion in sport, in particular rugby.