Response from the top on head injuries
REACTION: World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said he was “saddened” by the plight of former players suffering from concussion-related health problems after six more ex-professionals joined a lawsuit against the sport’s authorities.
A pre-action letter of claim was on Thursday delivered to World Rugby, England’s Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union on behalf of nine players being represented by Rylands Law.
In addition to England forwards Steve Thompson and Michael Lipman and Wales flanker Alix Popham, former Wales Under-20 centre Adam Hughes and ex-England Under-21 back row Neil Spence have also chosen to sue.
Four of the six new claimants have asked to remain anonymous.
Thompson revealed last week that he had no recollection of taking part in the 2003 World Cup triumph in Australia.
The basis of the claim made on behalf of the nine test cases – Rylands Law say they were talking to more than 130 more retired players – is that the sport’s governing bodies failed to provide sufficient protection from the risks caused by concussion.
Former England captain Beaumont, who retired on medical advice in the early 1980s, said in an open letter that he was “saddened by recent accounts of former players and their experiences”.
But he also stressed that the issue of concussion was high on global governing body World Rugby’s list of priorities.
“As a former player, I have actively participated in long-term cognitive health research,” he said. “I am personally committed to growing the science available so that we can continue to shape our understanding of how best to safeguard the wellbeing of our players.
“I believe that we are at the forefront of evidence-based concussion education, prevention and management in sport.
“It is clear, however, that the area of concussion and long-term cognitive health is extremely complex. We have continuously acted on research and scientific information as it has become available. The science continues to evolve, and we will evolve with it.”
Among the nine former players involved, eight have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
Rylands Law alleges the risks of concussions and sub-concussive injuries were “known and foreseeable” and lists 24 failures on the part of World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU.
The governing bodies said it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the letter.
“Rugby is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, rugby takes player welfare extremely seriously and it continues to be our number one priority,” they said in a joint statement.
“As a result of scientific knowledge improving, rugby has developed its approach to concussion surveillance, education, management and prevention across the whole game.”
Richard Boardman of Rylands Law said the test cases would show the risks of playing the sport, regardless of position.
“I think what will surprise people when they see the test cases is the age of the players, but also the positions in which they played,” he said.
“You don’t have to be a bruising forward in the middle of the scrum to suffer concussive injuries.”