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Rugby urged to cut matches as study found players are 15 times more at risk of MND. rugby union

 

Rugby union has been urged to cut competitive matches and completely discontinue contact training sessions during the season, after a landmark study found the risk of motor neurone disease among Scottish international players 15 times that of the general population. was excessive.

The research, which compared 412 former Scotland internationals born between 1900 and 1990 with more than 1,200 non-players of similar age, region and socioeconomic status, also found that rugby players – all male – were more likely to develop dementia. were twice as likely and more than three times as likely to have Parkinson’s disease.

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Dr Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow who led the study, said the MND figure was alarming and warned that the issue of brain damage in rugby could get worse in 20 years.

“I think we’re seeing these observations largely from an amateurish era,” he said. “The way the sport has changed professionally, with a lot more training and sporting performance, means that the rate of head injury and the rate of head impact has gone up. I’m really really intrigued by what’s going on in the modern game. In 20 years, if we repeat the study, we may see something that is even more worrying.

While the number of former Scotland internationals believed to have MND is still low, Stewart said the results were “statistically significant”. It also follows several high-profile cases of rugby players being diagnosed with the degenerative condition, the latest being Gloucester locksmith Ed Slater who announced this year that he would be retiring at the age of 34.

Former Scotland international Dodi Weir and late South African scrum half Jost van der Westhuizen are other high-profile rugby players who have contracted MND, which affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Stewart said that while rugby had talked a lot about head injury management, the pace of progress was “quite slow”. He said: “I think the incentive for them is to really kick their heels up and start making dramatic changes as soon as possible to try and reduce the risk.

“Instead of talking about extending the season and starting new competitions and a global season, they should probably be talking about restricting it as much as possible.

“Contact training during the week, during the competition season, should become a thing of the past. Also look at the number of matches played – is it reliable that young men and young women are playing week after week for most of the week for fun and is there any way we can trim that? But back? Things like this need to be addressed very fast.”

Stewart also called for more research into the link between rugby and MND, but suggested that genetics, high-intensity exercise, trauma to the brain and possibly one’s environment may all be factors.

World Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr Cana Falvey, said he welcomed the findings and stressed that the sport’s governing bodies were having “continuous and open dialogue about what changes to the sport may be appropriate”.

Falve said: “World rugby will never be stagnant on player welfare. To date, we have invested over €10m. [£8.7m] Welfare studies, including the largest study of head effects in community play anywhere in the world and a study of the health outcomes of over 3,000 retired rugby players, were both delivered in partnership with New Zealand Rugby.

The results, which have been published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, were also welcomed by Dr. Virginia Newcomb of the Academy of Medical Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

“This is an important study that adds to the growing evidence that repetitive head impacts on the sports field may increase the risk of neurodegenerative disease,” Newcomb said.

“While it is likely that the increased risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease is secondary to repetitive head impacts, the reason for the higher risk of MND is unclear and understanding the mechanisms will be important to facilitate future preventive strategies.”

A similar study published by the same researchers three years ago found that former professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from dementia than the general population – slightly higher than in rugby. Although Stewart said he’s not sure there’s a big difference between the two sports, further research is likely to show it.

Rugby urged to cut matches as study found players are 15 times more at risk of MND. rugby union

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Rugby urged to cut matches as study found players are 15 times more at risk of MND. rugby union

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