The sport of Rugby and its players face a looming shadow due to brain injury cases.
There is already a sense of division between Tier 1 and Tier 2 in the competition we could refer to as Rugby versus Its Players. Skills and fairness are disregarded; power and resources often prevail. This is not to suggest that the 295 union players who filed for a group litigation order (GLO) on Friday have no chance at all, quite the contrary.
In addition, it is evident that they require restitution for their circumstances, which someone will need to provide. The accused parties – World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union, and the Welsh Rugby Union – seem to be the primary responsible parties. The issue of contention will arise over whether these conditions are due to the negligence of the defendants or, as some theories suggest, a cover-up similar to that of the tobacco industry. Ultimately, the decision falls to the courts.
If we reach our destination. The initial indications indicate that the GLO will probably be approved, but not until the players’ legal team organizes their documents. Overwhelmed by the numerous lawyers representing the three defendants, they received a stern warning from the referee early on. Senior Master Cook scolded the players’ legal team for failing to provide the required medical records by now. The court adjourned until April, just in time for lunch. Ouch.
The lawyers representing the defendants are currently acting as if they believe they will be victorious. This is concerning for those who are invested in the survival of the game. Ideally, a resolution will be reached before the case goes to court, but that is unlikely to happen before 2025. If the defendants are convinced they will win and are unwilling to pay for a fair settlement, we may unfortunately see Rugby v Its Players play out in a court near you.
The reputation of the sport is already suffering as much as the physical toll endured by its players during a game, but it will only worsen when its governing bodies bring in legal action to expose the misconduct of their once-respected athletes. In this situation, the evidence being presented is simply their own personal lives.
Picture a merciless KC grilling Player X about their drinking habits, Player Y about their drug use, or Player Z about hiding their brain injuries in order to continue playing. Envision bewildered, strong players breaking down in court, confronted by the governing bodies who are responsible for their well-being, but have continuously failed to prioritize it. Their constant rhetoric about player welfare and top priorities now falls on deaf ears.
Although these situations are currently only theoretical, they should still evoke outrage in any rational individual simply by considering them. Even if it turns out that the players’ conditions are not caused by rugby, the governing bodies would be compelled to aggressively pursue victory, which inherently involves pursuing defeat and humiliation for the players.
Rugby would certainly not come out as the winner. While a court victory is possible for the governing bodies, it would be a hollow one. The damage to the sport’s reputation would be nearly as detrimental as the thought of neuro-degenerative conditions emerging, greatly impacting its future sustainability.
However, it is important to note that participating in a contact sport comes with its own set of risks. According to proponents, if players are aware of and comprehend these risks, they can make an informed decision about whether or not to continue playing. This may be applicable to adults, as long as proper measures are taken to identify and treat brain injuries. However, this argument does not hold for children.
The future of the sport will be determined in schools, regardless of the outcome of this case. In the area of rugby where I am involved, there seems to be a significant shift in mindset among players and their families. School rugby is vastly different from its amateur counterpart in previous years.
The concept of professionalism is often associated with adult activities, but its principles are present in all aspects of life. Those who are not fully dedicated will eventually have to step back, for the sake of their well-being as well as other factors.
Nowadays, in order to excel in school rugby, it is necessary to have a strong familiarity with gym equipment starting at the age of 15. Even at average schools, players must follow conditioning programs.
As some individuals at this stage are essentially physically mature adults while others are still very much considered children, the possibility of injury, whether to the brain or bones, is already concerning. Along with the added worries of parents and the pressure of public exams, it is not surprising that the sport will soon have to face consequences in school settings.
If, in the future, we are forced to witness the downfall of retired players in a legal setting due to the actions of sports officials, it would be best to end rugby altogether. This situation is crucial for current and future players and poses a significant threat to the sport. We can only hope that both parties involved are fully aware of the consequences.