Professional rugby players are filing a collective legal action in regards to brain injuries.
Nearly three years ago, former England Rugby World Cup champion Steve Thompson made a surprising announcement that he had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. This revelation sparked a discussion within the sport, bringing to light many other players who have also been affected by this condition.
On Friday at the high court in London, a group of 295 players, including Thompson, will file for a class action lawsuit as they take a significant step forward in their legal dispute with the governing bodies of rugby union. These players are seeking compensation from World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union (RFU), and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) for negligence and failure to protect them. They are requesting for their cases to be heard together under a group litigation order (GLO). This would consolidate their claims into one group action case instead of multiple individual claims in future hearings. The case file includes 268 players, with an additional 27 who filed earlier this week and would also be included under the GLO.
Unfortunately, there are a number of obstacles that must be overcome. It is possible that it may not be until February or March that the GLO (General Legal Opinion) is approved, and a complete hearing may not occur until the conclusion of 2024. The key issue at hand is that the players will have to demonstrate, with a high likelihood, that the governing bodies of the game are responsible for their current conditions.
The attorney for the players, Richard Boardman, has claimed that the governing bodies were at fault for not taking appropriate measures to prevent permanent brain damage resulting from repeated concussions and sub-concussive hits.
The speaker stated that there has been a failure within the governing bodies, which are the top authorities responsible for creating and enforcing rules and regulations. This issue is not just a one-time mistake, but rather it involves the entire system that the governing bodies have established for the sport.
The players’ legal team has submitted two additional applications to be heard by the high court. The first addresses the issue of anonymity for certain claimants in upcoming hearings, while the second pertains to the use of 45 cases as a representation for all 295 players in a future hearing.
The final issue is likely to be a source of disagreement, as both parties must reach an agreement in GLO cases. According to Boardman, the 45 cases include a diverse range of diagnoses, players of both genders, international and amateur players, and cases from both before and after 2011.
In a joint statement, World Rugby, the RFU, and the WRU emphasized that the two legal teams were still in disagreement.
“We are still deeply saddened by the accounts of former players who are facing difficulties,” they stated. “Although we have been instructed by the court to do so, the lawyers representing the players have not yet disclosed all the specific allegations against us.”
Hence, we are unable to provide a comment on the current legal proceedings or directly contact the players. However, we want the players to know that we value their involvement and prioritize player well-being as our top priority in the sport.
Courtney Lawes, a former England player, offered support to the players involved in the event. He expressed sympathy for them, as they were not aware of the potential consequences of playing rugby. They did not choose to put themselves at risk and Lawes believes that with more awareness, they may have reconsidered their decision.
The 34-year-old, who retired from playing internationally after the Rugby World Cup, acknowledged that there will always be a risk of concussions. He stated that rugby is a physical contact sport and a rough game, so it is important for individuals to understand and accept the risks before deciding whether to play.