Rugby is no stranger to concussion and head-injuries. In 2011 Benjamin Robinson collapsed and later died while playing in a school game. It was discovered that the cause of death was second impact syndrome. A February 2014 report by the RFU found that during the 2012-13 Premiership season concussion was the most common injury during matches with 6.7 incidents per 1000 hours of rugby played. This figure is up from the 2010-11 season which saw 3.9 concussion incidents per 1000 hours. The report details various other injury incidents per 1000 hours across a number of seasons and concussion is shown to have the biggest increase in incidents compared to other injuries.
The RFU have always had safeguards in relation to concussion and head-injuries. Tight rules have always been in place and numerous awareness campaigns and initiatives are aimed at players, coaches, officials and clubs to ensure that these injuries aren’t taken lightly. The decision by the RFU and the RPA to implement stricter rules can only be a good thing for the safety of players. One of the main initiatives in the new rules is the introduction of an online course which aims to educate players, coaches and officials on concussion. It contains information on concussion, the symptoms and how it can be dealt with. Failure to complete the module by the 11th December 2014 will see individuals fined. The fine will then be doubled if the individual still hasn’t completed the module by the 25th December 2014. Corin Palmer, Premier Rugby’s head of operations, even went as far as to say that failure to complete the module will see players, coaches and officials suspended from the game. It is essentially a bid to make sure everyone involved in rugby realises that concussion isn’t something you can just run off and every suspected concussion injury should be treated extremely seriously. The consequences of playing on after suffering concussion are extremely dangerous after all.
Just as importantly there are a number of new changes to the head injury assessment process. Perhaps the most stringent of the changes is that any player with concussion will be permanently removed from the match. The standard has also been lowered to accommodate cases of suspected concussion. Doctors suspecting a player to be suffering from concussion will also be permanently removed from play. This measure removes the pressure that could potentially be placed on a doctor by coaches to give the all clear for a player to return to the match. Additionally players will now have to reach a higher standard to pass the memory and balance tests that is performed to determine the extent of head-injuries.
The new rules also give doctors and medical professionals more options in diagnosing any head-injuries. They now have ten minutes to assess an injured player (up from 5 minutes) and they will have access to television replays at every Premiership ground and Twickenham to aid them in coming to a diagnosis. Doctors will also be subject to independent reviews of their management of any concussion related cases by two external medical professionals. The changes brought in certainly help doctors make subjective decisions on a player’s head-injury which will ultimately provide a much safer playing environment.
While the new rules have no doubt been implemented for the protection and safety of players they have also been brought in to avoid potential legal problems further down the road. The NFL is currently embroiled in a £480million lawsuit and the RFU will want to lessen any legal damages that could come their way. It is a precedent that could perhaps be taken up by other sports such as football. Clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have all faced criticism for their handling of head-injuries and they leave themselves open potentially expensive legal issues. The RFU’s measures will want to eradicate the idea of concussion and had-injuries being something of a badge of honour and if in sport where contact is so high they can be successful in doing so then there should be no excuse for other sports to follow their example.