Rugby is facing a ‘walking time bomb’ while players pursue a lawsuit over degenerative brain disease

Former international players taking legal action against the game’s governing bodies include Steve Thompson, Michael Lipman and Alix Popham.

“This is something I will fight forever and in the end, I will not win,” Lipman said. “I’m a walking time bomb. I feel like I’m laying eggs on my own.”

Thompson, meanwhile, says his memory has shrunk to the point where he can’t remember playing for England in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, let alone even in Australia. for the competition.

Steve Thompson made over 70 appearances for England.
“At this stage we are afraid of a disease that may be based on what our experts have seen so far in terms of our own experience, as well as many of the studies they have read around the world. sports, “Richard Boardman, the lawyer coordinating the case, told CNN Sport.

In a joint statement, Rugby World Cup, the English Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) said it would be “inappropriate to comment” on the details of the legal proceedings. but he said it was “very difficult to hear the hero’s personal accounts from former players” and that “rugby really cares about the welfare of players and remains a top priority for us. “

NFL comparison

Thompson and Lipman are among a group of nine players who claimed the governing bodies, but a wider group of more than 100 players – between their 20s and 50s, many of whom show signs of brain problems – are interested. to pursue legal action, according to the Board Member.

A pre-action bid letter was delivered to Rugby World Cup, the RFU and the WRU on Thursday by law firm Rylands Law, claiming the risk of decisions for the players was “known and predictable.”

He’s a dynamic who has led to comparisons with the NFL.

CTE’s connection to American football has been well-established since it was first discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu in the brains of former NFL player Mike Webster 18 years ago.
Forensic physiologist and neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu was the first to discover CTE in the brain of an NFL player.

In 2015, a class action lawsuit was settled between the NFL and more than 5,000 veterans, awarding up to $ 5 million for each player who retired for serious medical conditions related to head trauma. -rithist.

Rugby, which turned professional in 1995, is now the subject of legal action.

According to a leading neuropathologist, Dr. Ann McKee, who has studied the brains of athletes across several sports involving more than 1,000 American football players, says the symptoms that rugby players experience are appearing similar to what she saw in other sports.

“The symptoms are very similar to what we see in American footballers and footballers, and we’ve seen them in rugby players as well,” she told CNN Sport.

“And the pathology is very similar as well. What we don’t know is how common – we don’t know how often rugby players are before.”

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Surgeon Michael Lipman captained Bath and represented England during his rugby career.

Financial compensation for the players – many of whom have young families for support – is one part of the legal battle.

Another is to make the game safer moving forward, which is why the players who put the case forward have also created a set of 15 “commands” that they would like to see posted. in action with regulatory bodies.

“The only thing that seems to be hanging fruit below low is communication control in training,” the Boardman said.

Why football needs a 'global game approach' to tackle the risk of degenerative brain disease

“For the players, that doesn’t seem to be an obstacle to achieving it, and it shouldn’t cost too much money.

“Everyone who does this has a great love for the game, and they absolutely want to make sure the game goes on.”

‘Rainy minute’

In 2011, the NFL limited the number of full-padded practice sessions in the regular season to 14, with 11 of those held in the first 11 weeks of the season.

Tighter regulation of communication training could also be on the way for rugby.

“Part of the issue with limiting communication training is that you have to have a scientific response to what’s too much, and that was always hard to come by,” Christian Day, a player liaison officer for the retired players ’Rugby Association from professional rugby in 2018, told CNN Sport.

“I wonder if this is the time when we don’t need a figure, we’re just saying there’s too much, we have to reduce that and see where that takes us.”

The NFL has limited the number of full-contact session players players can receive each season.

Day said the growing association of rugby with neurological disorders will “undoubtedly” lead people to question playing the game at an amateur level, but said also that the lawsuit could be a “sad moment.”

“Rugby is a sport of communication at the end of the day … people enjoy not only looking at that body, but our members are talking about the they like themselves, “he said.

“We have to try to change the game. We have to try to keep moving in terms of what we’re doing and build in those defensive lines for the players.”

The statement from the three governing bodies of the sport continued: “As a result of developing scientific knowledge, rugby has developed its approach to the study of concussion, education, management and prevention throughout the game.

“We have implemented coach, referee and player education protocols and good practice throughout the game and a rugby approach to head injury assessments and concussion protocols has been recognized and has led to many other team sports taking part. to our guidance.

“We will continue to use medical evidence and research to keep changing our approach.”

According to World Rugby decision guidelines, a player with a concussion or suspected concussion at all stages of the game should be immediately and permanently removed from training or the playing field and should be medically evaluated.

Elite adult teams also work on the Head Injury Assessment protocol during games to help identify, detect and manage the effects of head injuries.

Assessing the impact

Alistair Hargreaves, a South African international who retired from rugby four years ago as a result of a decision, felt “well managed” as player.

“I was acutely aware of the risks of a merger,” he told CNN Sport.

“I think I was very skeptical about what a decision was, what it meant and what the impact of a decision was again.”

Hargreaves has been in talks with lawyers about his retirement with a decision, but decided it wasn’t something he wanted to pursue.

“I see those issues (like Thompson and Lipman) coming out and I get a million messages from friends and colleagues saying, well, did you see this? How are you doing? feeling? “he said.

“I find it very difficult and emotional to see issues and stories of people coming out with symptoms.

“So far, I’ve been fine. But yes, I’m worried about it. But, you know, is the glass half empty or half full? A lot of the information I got is, well, no we don’t want to know the impact of a long – term decision. “

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In 2017, Dr. McKee co-authored a study that found CTE in 99% of the brains of NFL players who died. As a key figure in the sport’s understanding of decision-making and CTE, she wants to do more to monitor the impact of head effects on mainstream and former players.

“We are not yet conscientiously dealing with the serious injury,” she said.

Hargreaves made 79 appearances for the English Premier League side Saracens

“We are dealing with the decision; we have marked concussion determination and management have improved significantly over the last decade and have made leaps and bounds there.

“But we do not quantitatively and accurately assess the players to determine whether they are developing anomalies in their neuropsych tests or on their neuroimaging devices available with us. .

“We need to monitor these players and make sure they don’t go down this road to a disease that will eventually be devastating, sad.”