Balancing the benefits and risks of banning the tackle in school rugby

In March 2016, the Sport Collision Injury Collective, backed by over 80 academics and doctors, called upon the UK and devolved governments to remove the tackle from physical education rugby in school. Despite having previously worked for England Rugby, played, coached, and officiated rugby, I support this call. Last autumn, Pollock and Kirkwood renewed the call, based upon emerging evidence, to remove the tackle from physical education rugby.  

Some of the responses to Pollock and Kirkwood’s piece highlighted the importance of rugby in increasing the levels of physical activity among younger people. UK chief medical officers, and particularly Catharine Calderwood, are rightly concerned by increasing obesity trends, the prevalence of physical inactivity, and the impact this is having on children’s health. Importantly, however, the issue is about removing the tackle from schools’ physical education only. Therefore, if the tackle were removed from school physical education, then other non-contact activities would fill the void in the physical education curriculum, which could include touch rugby. The removal of the tackle would not lead to physical inactivity or obesity and the implication that it will is not supported by evidence. Additionally, we must also remember that injury is a cause of physical inactivity; with 49% of injuries requiring in excess of 28 days of absence from play in the most recent schoolboy study.

British Medical Journal [6th Apr 2018]

Removing the tackle from schools’ rugby: A safeguarding perspective

THE BACKGROUND TO TACKLING IN SCHOOLS’ RUGBY

Schools’ rugby is currently receiving significant scrutiny as a result of the injuries, particularly concussions, that are frequently an outcome of tackling. [1] We, and the Sport Collision Injury Collective, called upon the UK and devolved governments to remove the tackle from schools’ physical education. This call was necessary because, (a) rugby has a high incidence of severe injuries, [2] (b) many children are compelled to participate in contact rugby as part of school Physical Education, [2] (c) the tackle is the core mechanism for injury in rugby, [2] and (d) concussions are common and the long-term impacts are concerning. [2] So far, the debate has neglected a safeguarding approach that focuses upon the prevention of harm to children. [3]... [contd]

British Journal of Sports Medicine [22nd Mar 2018]

The call to remove tackling from schools’ rugby: Some myths and misconceptions

This week, the call to remove tackling from schools’ rugby in the United Kingdom has flared up once again with much heated debate and anger. Emotions have run so high that World Rugby has called this call ‘extreme and alarmist’. Much of the debate, unfortunately, has been lost through the polarisation of positions with little unpicking of reality. So much so, there are a number of myths that need some further attention and discussion. [contd]

Medium.com [1st Oct 2017]

The bromance is blossoming, says study

After winning Olympic gold in the men’s synchronised three-metre springboard last year, British diver Jack Laugher ran, in only Speedos, to his diving partner and housemate, Chris Mears, for a heartwarming victory cuddle. Immediately afterwards, the Daily Mail published a piece entitled “Steady on chaps!…” questioning the masculinity (and arguably, sexuality) of the champions.... [contd].

The Conversation [8th June 2017]

LOOK A LITTLE FURTHER: EXAMINING HOMOPHOBIA AND FINDING WIDESPREAD SOCIAL SUPPORT

It is often hard to find the positive and empowering stories of gay men and lesbian women within the mainstream media narratives. Opening Facebook during the Olympics we were drawn to a story shared by Pink News highlighting the distasteful reporting of a male embrace of hugging shared between Olympic divers Jack Laugher and Chris Mears in the Daily Mail. The homosocial tactility these two Olympians share is completely routine for young men today, even without the emotion-fueling event of winning a gold medal. The Daily Mail, however, decided to question such normal and beautiful behavior, as if Jack and Chris have just taken gender norms, chewed them and spat them back in the green Olympic pool they just emerged from. In fact, just to set the Daily Mail straight, there is huge swaths of research today expressing exactly that younger men are increasingly physically tactile and pro-gay; exactly like Jack and Chris. This, however, isn’t the only gay-themed story we have cringed at recently.... [contd].

Discover Society [1st November 2016]

SAFETY IN YOUTH RUGBY: EDUCATION IS NOT THE ANSWER TO THE CONCUSSION CRISIS

Despite the potential health benefits from participating in the sport, rugby is under increasing scrutiny as a result of the high number of injuries experienced by youth participants. We know, for example, that injury rates in rugby union for participants under 21 years of age can be as high as 128.9 injuries per 1000 playing hours, with a mean injury incidence rate of 26.7 per 1000 playing hours. The tackle is often to blame, causing sixty-three per cent of all injuries in one study on school rugby... [contd]. 

British Journal of Sports Medicine Blog [19th September 2016]

WHY TACKLING IN SCHOOL RUGBY SHOULD BE BANNED

Seventy academics, doctors, and public health professionals recently called for a ban on tackling in school rugby. They have called upon “Childrens’ Commissioners to protect children from the risks of harmful contact in school rugby” and for “Ministers to remove the tackle and other forms of harmful contact.” As an executive committee member of England Rugby Schools, I support the ban... [contd]. 

British Medical Journal Blog [10th March 2016]

(c) Adam John White