Should contact be banned in school rugby?

In the same week that we saw doctors call for tackling to be banned in rugby, we also saw the Olympic Committee remove protective headgear for male boxers at Rio 2016. So at what point do we sacrifice elements of sport to improve safety?

The first thing to say is that you don’t need contact sports to be fit. It is perfectly possible to lead an actively healthy lifestyle without putting yourself at risk of concussion. But then some argue that every time you run on a treadmill or lift weights you are putting yourself at some element of risk.

The point is that more than 70 doctors and academics are calling for this ban and therefore it must be taken seriously. No parent would actively support their child being at risk of lifelong negative consequences if they honestly believed that was the case. And you have to assume that the decision to support this wasn’t taken lightly by all those doctors and teachers.

But most of us probably competed in some form of contact sport at school if not in later life. Most of us would also probably agree that competing in those sports helped us to access a lot of the faculties that we now possess. How else do we expect children to learn about teamwork, discipline and camaraderie?

Then you have the actions of the Olympic Committee who, admittedly dealing with a separate issue, seem to have acted in the complete opposite way and have encouraged more risk being introduced to boxing at Rio 2016. Obviously this issue is different because we aren’t talking about children but it deals with the same problems.

The idea that people are being unwillingly forced to compete in these sports is ridiculous. Why can’t we just provide the information, keep these sports the same and allow individuals to choose what they subject themselves to? Nobody walks onto a rugby field or into a boxing ring without knowing that there is a chance of them getting injured, right?

Childhood obesity is a real problem and we should expect Government to be encouraging exercise amongst children and not potentially discouraging it. It’s undoubtable that some people would stop playing rugby if contact was removed and that means that element of exercise will be removed from their lives. Equally though I imagine some parents don’t allow their children to compete in rugby because of the risks and these suggested changes would eliminate that concern.

70 doctors and academics seems a big number but in the grand scheme of things this doesn’t have overwhelming support. And how many of us can actually imagine contact being banned from school rugby? Surely common sense dictates that when balancing the benefits and the risks that the benefits win. Competing in sport, particularly team ones, is unquestionably a positive thing for most people.

As for the concerns with boxing it seems blatantly obvious that there are definite risks to long term health if you choose to get punched regularly for a great number of years. And therefore headgear has to reduce that risk. Does it ruin the sport? Well obviously not but it does change it. Risks are present in most sports and everyone should be free to consider those risks and then choose whether or not to take part. Any changes that reduce participation in sport poses a genuine risk to long term health in itself.

Ollie Lawrence
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