There is much talk of a legal case involving a group of rugby players diagnosed with early-onset dementia and other irreversible neurological impairments. The developing case is to seek damages, and the respondents involve Rugby Football Union, Welsh Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Football Union. The challenge leans on the inability to provide the required safe playing environment following the launch of action by a group of rugby players.

The damning allegations include that the sport’s authorities failed to:

Use expert medical advice on the risks of permanent brain damage and inform, educate and warn players.

Ensure players receive regular medical examinations for evidence of brain damage.

Investigate the effects of collisions on the brain.

Reduce the amount of contact in training and the number of matches.

Protect or extend the mandatory 21-day stand-down period after a concussion rather than reducing it.

Act on the knowledge that concussions often have delayed presentation and that the five or 10-minute assessments during a match were wholly inadequate.

Implement rules to limit the number of substitutions of non-injured players and reduce the risk to players of heavy collisions.

World Rugby has sat to discuss and develop a strategy on a six-point plan to achieve the objective of a safe sport for all.

“World Rugby wants the sport to be the most progressive sport for player welfare.” Sir Bill Beaumont, World Rugby Chairman, is on record as saying:

“My goal is for parents worldwide to look at Rugby and see a game they want their sons and daughters to play because of its main benefits.”

Of particular interest in Sri Lanka is what happened in rugby in the recent past. It starts with allowing head injury assessment and allowing a player to return after twelve minutes. The law is applicable only for matches where World Rugby has approved the use of the Head Injury Process. The process was, however, implemented at the last club season. The stakeholders of the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association wanted to implement the HIA following the giant step of Sri Lanka Rugby.  

Despite wobbly challenges, the referees have decided at times, as the law covers, to refrain from sending a player back to play after a suspected concussion. There are issues surrounding the implication of the protocol where the referee can decide with or without medical advice that a player shouldn’t continue playing. The referee then orders the player to leave the playing area.

Another issue that needs serious merit is the appointment of match day doctors. The Schools Section has requested the host team to provide a Match Day Doctor. The explanation given to the writer at the start of the season was that there was a high cost in using World Rugby qualified match day doctors. Therefore, the host schools provide a match-day doctor who is medically qualified but is unaware of World Rugby protocols, which do not allow a player to return to play till after twenty-one days. Filing other advisory forms to advise those responsible and the schools must check and comply.

Recently there was pressure on the medics to send back an injured player after a collision. In one incident, the doctors, after the necessary tests, were prone to send the players after the twelve minutes rest. The process is only for matches approved by WR. In another case, the medics believed that the player could get back. However, when the player staggered to the field, the referee did a rudimentary memory test and did not allow the player to play. While criticizing referee Weranga for not picking a throw that was not straight, nobody says anything about his judgment of the suspected concussion, which is more critical to player welfare when the issue relates to the brain.

I was reading the class action; the liability claim extends from the Home Union to the governing body. Therefore, the line of responsibility in Sri Lanka may reach the school and schools section and the governing body. It could also cover the coaches who are prone to send players back to the playing area and referees, as the law has placed their responsibility as the final arbitrator.

 Wear clear glasses to read the text and see what is happening. Then, put on the thinking cap to determine the rational decisions you have to make. Player welfare is essential if the game proceeds and parents are confident to let their children play.

Rugby injuries and a duty to care need more scrutiny than before in Sri Lanka. 

By Vimal Perera