Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Ban on tackling in children’s rugby criticised

A CALL to ban tackling in children’s rugby has been rejected by schools and coaches in

A CALL to ban tackling in children’s rugby has been rejected by schools and coaches in the Henley area.

Health experts wrote to ministers suggesting that children should be restricted to non-contact forms of the game such as touch rugby.

They said children were being put at risk of potentially fatal head and spinal injuries from tackling and of fractures, concussion, dislocated shoulders and spinal and head injuries from scrummaging.

The letter, which was signed by more than 70 doctors, health and sports experts, said: “A link has been found between repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities as well as longer term problems.”

But teachers and coaches say young players should be taught how to tackle safely rather than having a blanket ban imposed on school matches.

Gregg Davies, headteacher of Shiplake College, said the experts’ opinion was valuable but a ban on tackling wouldn’t work.

“You can’t start introducing contact tackling at 18,” he said. “Can you imagine my best rugby players here going to a club and suddenly having to tackle grown men? It makes no sense.”

Mr Davies, a former international rugby referee who is on the sports committee of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference for independent schools, said there was always a risk of injury in contact sports.

He said: “Thank God that in schools we have come away from wrapping children in cotton wool — you’ve got to take risks.

“We will have tag rugby games against other schools next term for those who aren’t mature enough or don’t want to tackle.”

Mr Davies suggested introducing a similar policy to youth rugby in France, where tackling at under-18 level and below is restricted to below the waist.

He said: “It comes down to three things — teaching children how to tackle properly, looking at the laws to see what is appropriate for tackling and providing opportunities for people who don’t want to play contact rugby to play a game that is still fun.”

James Gaunt, director of sport at the college, said: “We strongly believe in maintaining a contact environment but appreciate that there are boys who aren’t comfortable with that and we have to cater for them as well.

“Our head of rugby also makes sure we are all educated on concussion protocols.

“There are so many benefits to the contact game, such as the fortitude of character and mental qualities, that it would be careless to just abandon that.”

Martin Unsworth, who coaches The Henley College’s London Wasps Achieving Academic and Sporting Excellence programme, said: “Safety is paramount but it’s a competitive world and if you ban tackling what else would you end up banning?

“The issue is about being coached correctly and not having mismatches between players in terms of weight and size. Coaches nowadays are trained to a high level and rugby teachers generally know the dangers.

“The professional game is very different to what the kids play but it might be a good idea to have laws which match players by height and weight like in the southern hemisphere.”

Henley businessman Harry Corrigan, an Australian who helps with the academy programme, said: “Rugby is a tough sport and tackling is one of the things which attracts boys. If you take that away it’s just tag, which is popular but it’s not rugby.

“Kids will get injured, as they do in other sports, but my personal take is that a ban is not the way to go.”

Mike Trethewey, chairman of Henley Rugby Club, said: “A blanket ban would change the game completely and in that sense the proposal is almost impossible.

“At this rugby club the safety of our minis and juniors is number one on the list, much more important than winning, and we pay huge attention to the coaching and medical side.

“Tackling is an integral part of the game but we have to manage it to minimise the possibility of injury.”

Henley-based brain injury charity Headway Thames Valley doesn’t support a ban on tackling.

Chief executive Stephen Welch said: “We can see the merit in limiting contact in rugby involving younger children but it is difficult to define where the line should be in terms of at what age players should be introduced to full-contact rugby.

“It is vital to ensure players are taught the correct tackling techniques. If they are prevented from tackling until they are 18, they will be ill-prepared for adult rugby and would be more likely to sustain serious injury as a result.

“Sport plays an important role in keeping us fit and healthy, with team sports in particular providing a host of additional benefits.

“It is important that all measures to protect the welfare of children playing sport are introduced without discouraging participation.

“Rugby has committed to improving concussion awareness and protocols and a significant amount of change has occurred over the past few years.”

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