The lawyers working with more than 75 former rugby league players to take legal action against the Rugby Football League – as well as 175 former rugby union players in a similar action – believe that more than 400 players across both codes have died early due to neurological defects from playing the game and have reiterated the need for the league to make “substantive, immediate changes” to prevent further players from suffering the same.
A group including the former Great Britain international Bobbie Goulding have launched a lawsuit against rugby league’s governing body over what they say is a failure to protect them adequately from the risk of brain damage caused by concussive and sub-concussive injuries.
Richard Boardman of Rylands Legal, who is leading the actions against both codes, described the issue as an epidemic and said that each week more and more players are reaching out to join the lawsuit against the RFL, which is still in its pre-action phase and is some way from reaching a conclusion, the Observer understands.
“There’s been a couple more this week alone,” the Boardman said. “It comes in dribs and drabs because some guys feel an allegiance to the sport and that it’s an attack on the game. However, we firmly believe it’s not an attack and that we’re simply trying to help players who are struggling in retirement with brain damage. What’s certain is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of current and former rugby players in a bad way across the United Kingdom and the wider rugby world. It is an absolute epidemic. ”
Boardman stressed it was a “certainty” people are dying early due to the conditions and issues they developed while playing rugby. “We believe 400-plus rugby players across both codes, whether it’s elite or amateur, have died prematurely in the last decade or so, due to things related to brain damage and playing the sport,” he continued.
There have been growing calls for rugby league to introduce mandatory limits on contact in training to minimize the risks of current and future players developing the same issues as Francis Maloney, who this week revealed they had been diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE. Boardman believes that is an absolute must.
“This is an urgent, immediate problem and that’s why substantive changes need to be made right now,” he said. “Since September when we first contacted the RFL, they’ve already changed numerous things in an attempt to make the game safer for current players, including extending the return to play following a concussion from six days to the relatively safer 11.
“In both codes of rugby, training is largely unregulated and if you’ve got a coach getting his players to do two to four days of full-contact training plus a game on top of that each week over a nine-month season, your The average player is retiring with hundreds of thousands of concussions or sub-concussions. I don’t think the sport can sustain the way it’s going to be that medium- or long-term. ”
The RFL has previously said in reaction to reports of the case: “Rugby league is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, player welfare is always of paramount importance. As a result of scientific knowledge, the sport of rugby league continues to improve and develop its approach to concussion, head injury assessment, education, management and prevention across the whole game. ”