Former England rugby star Steve Thompson faced abuse for speaking out over his dementia

  • Watch Hannah Pettifer's interview with Steve Thompson

Former England rugby player Steve Thompson has revealed he has faced abuse for speaking out over the dangers of playing the sport.

The former Northampton Saints hooker was diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of just 42.

Steve Thompson was part of the England team that won the World Cup in 2003, but says he can't remember the tournament.

He's now joined forces with other ex-players to sue the game's governing bodies for negligence.

He said people had sworn at him on social media saying he had "ruined" the gamed and was "killing it".

  • Watch the full interview with Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson said: "It's a great game. But with my kids, do I want them to play at the moment? No I don't. Until it's safer and we understand it.

"I go down the junior club where I live and I love it, the environment, the people, the values that come from rugby are brilliant. But we just need to understand it more and make it safer if we can.

"I've had people swearing at me on Instagram, on Twitter, and telling me I've ruined the game and I'm killing it and their kid's life has ended because of me.

"I can live with that. What I couldn't live with is, children can die from concussion, because people haven't understood it. Whereas now because we've come out and talked about it people are understanding it more."

Steve Thompson speaking to ITV News Anglia's Hannah Pettifer. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Steve Thompson played every game at the 2003 rugby world cup and yet he remembers nothing of it.

Doctors told him it was a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or repeated blows to the head.

Steve's professional rugby career spanned 14 years, 10 of those at Northampton Saints, alongside 73 England appearances.

Speaking about the training sessions, Steve said he remembered "just how physical it was".

"Just sort of mindless really, when you look at how much contact there was in training," he added.

"Everyone was doing it at the time, you thought that's what happened, that's what rugby's about and you knew in time that your body was going to get injured, your joints and that, but you just didn't think, you weren't told anything about your brain.

"If you got knocked out, it was like, how quickly can you get them round to get them back playing again?

"You see players stumbling around, people knocked out in training and they'd get back up and carry on training, so when you look at that it's unbelievable really."

Steve Thompson is campaigning to make rugby safer after being diagnosed with early onset dementia. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Steve is one of a group of eight former players taking legal action against the rugby authorities for negligence.

Since the lawsuit was announced last December, 150 players have now come forward.

The group is calling for the authorities to make changes to the game to improve player safety, including limiting contact sessions and better pre-season testing for head injuries.

But World rugby has said many of the changes have already been implemented.

Steve is speaking at an event next month put on by Suffolk brain injury charity Headway.

"It's a weird one for me because it gave me so much but it's taken away so much as well," he said.

"People say, do you wish you'd never played rugby? The friends I've made from it have been unbelievable, but the actually game itself and what it's done now, I don't think I would have, if I'm honest.

"That's the truth. It took me around the world, but I can't remember any of it. And now it's taken my older adulthood away. So, was it worth it? Probably not."

In a statement, the RFU said: "We have been deeply saddened to hear the brave personal accounts from former players.

"Rugby is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, rugby takes player welfare extremely seriously and it continues to be our number one priority.

"As a result of scientific knowledge improving, rugby has developed its approach to concussion surveillance, education, management and prevention across the whole game.

"We have implemented coach, referee and player education and best practice protocols across the game and rugby’s approach to head injury assessments and concussion protocols has been recognised and led to many other team sports adopting our guidance.

 "We will continue to use medical evidence and research to keep evolving our approach."

  • Interview with Dr Michael Grey, a scientist from the University of East Anglia, who is looking into head injuries in sport