Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


The unknown risks of youth rugby

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 08 January 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h26

Rapid Response:

Re: The unknown risks of youth rugby

I am a junior doctor that has worked in anaesthetics, intensive care and in the emergency department. I am also a lifelong rugby player and supporter.

This debate has recently been reignited by Professor Allyson Pollock's open letter calling for a move to make rugby a non-contact sport for children and adolescents.

Life is a game of risks versus benefits and even at a young age the enjoyment of rugby as a contact sport can foster significant benefits that can be developed into adult life including increased strength and fitness, development of a competitive edge and significant camaraderie of being part of a successful team. Putting your body on the line is probably the ultimate form of leadership. Taking contact out of the game takes away an edge which would be sorely missed by its participants and could take away from them in their future lives. Often rugby is the preferred sport of the larger child, (it was for me!). I have certainly gained weight since stopping playing, will this add further to the burden of childhood obesity, (and therefore adult associated chronic diseases and cost to the NHS?).

There are obvious risks associated with playing rugby and I think most children that have reached "tackling age" have an appreciation of this, as do their parents. However I agree these risks are not yet presented in a contextualized and easy to understand format for children and parents

I think that if we are to have a serious debate about forcing children to play non-contact rugby, we should properly think about and present the risks. You mention two deaths as a direct result of rugby. How many deaths have you seen from children being hit by cars, either cycling or as pedestrians. Have you seen deaths from football? Diving or swimming? We need to look at everything, not just single out rugby!

I agree we need a proper database of injuries and then a rational look at the results, taking into account the significant benefits competitive rugby can provide.

In addition many injuries may be avoided by other means: correct positioning and better coaching. Perhaps we should not play on an age basis but on a weight category basis, children obviously develop differently and at different times over adolescence.

Competing interests: No competing interests

02 March 2016
Alexander Leslie Jones
Anaesthetic Trainee
Southwest Peninsula Deanery
Parkfield Drive, Taunton, TA1 5DA