The emerging potential liability risks associated with contact sport have grown after an expert has joined calls for action on potential links between concussion and dementia in women’s rugby.
Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist, told the BBC that “sex-specific” guidance could reduce brain injury.
The game’s governing body, World Rugby, said it was “committed” to further research.
Prof Stewart, who works at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, leads an international team of scientists who study traumatic brain injury (TBI), including in former sports professionals, such as football players.
He said: “Research published recently demonstrated that where the rules are comparable – such as in football or rugby – female athletes are about twice the risk of concussion that male athletes are, for reasons that aren’t terribly clear.”
He and others, including former players, are calling for fewer contact sessions in rugby training, due to the risk of a link between repeated concussions and dementia.
The latest development follows the news last December that a potential ground-breaking claim for millions in damages from former professional rugby players was in the offing.
Steve Thompson – one of England’s Rugby World Cup-winning team in 2003 – and seven other former players were set to claim the sport has left them with permanent brain damage.
The other players are understood to include Alix Popham, 41, capped 33 times for Wales as a flanker or No 8, and Michael Lipman, 40, who played 10 times for England as a flanker and now lives in Australia.
According to reports, the players have been in the process of starting a class action against the game’s authorities for negligence.
It is understood that the claim focuses on the fact that every member of the prospective action has recently been diagnosed with the early signs of dementia.
Crucially, their case claims that repeated blows to the head from playing the game are to blame.
The move is seminal as it is the first legal move of its kind in world rugby and, if successful, could force profound changes to the way the game is played.
Since the dawn of the new era the game has been played at a harder, faster pace by rugby professionals– especially by elite players.
Indeed, the legal action comes from a group of players who were in the first cohort to play continuously as professionals after the game famously abandoned its long-cherished (but widely abused) amateur status in 1995.At the time, World Rugby released a statement: “While not commenting on speculation, World Rugby takes player safety very seriously and implements injury-prevention strategies based on the latest available knowledge, research and evidence.”