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Call for ban on rugby tackles in schools over safety fears

Credit: PA

Tackling and scrums should be banned in school rugby games due to the risk of serious injury, according to health experts.

Writing an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Professor Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood from Newcastle University argue that most injuries in youth rugby occur due to the collision elements of the game.

They argue that a history of concussion is associated with the "lowering of a person's life chances" across a number of measures including low educational achievement and premature death.

Meanwhile, a head injury is linked to an increased risk of dementia, they added.

Citing previous research into sports injuries in youngsters, the pair argue that rugby, along with ice hockey and American football, have the highest concussion rates.

The authors referred to rules put in place in Canada which prohibit body-checking opposing players in under-13 ice hockey which has found to have reduced the risk of concussion by 67%.

The researchers called on the UK chief medical officers to advise the UK Government to remove "harmful contact" from the game.

In 2016, the nation's most senior medics rejected a call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby.

But Professor Pollock, who has been researching injuries and rugby injuries for more than ten years, and Mr Kirkwood said that under United Nations conventions, governments have a "duty to protect children from risks of injury".

"We call on the chief medical officers to act on the evidence and advise the UK government to put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions and remove harmful contact from the school game," they wrote.

Professor Tara Spires-Jones, deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said caution should be taken in games where there is a significant risk of head injury.

"The data on specifically whether playing rugby or other contact sports in school increases your risk of dementia are not as robust yet due to a lack of large prospective studies. It is also very clear that there are many health risks of leading a sedentary lifestyle," she said.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Schools have the flexibility to offer a diverse PE curriculum which suits the needs of their students.

"We expect schools to be aware of all of the risks associated with sporting activities and to provide a safe environment for pupils.

"There is expert advice available for schools on how to manage activities safely and reduce the risk of injuries and accidents. On top of this, staff should be given the information and training they need to manage risks effectively."