Should tackles be banned in school rugby?

Anyone playing or watching rugby will be aware that it is an inherently high-impact collision sport, with participants facing a real risk of being hurt. Tackles and scrums cause the majority of injuries, which include dislocated shoulders, fractures, and tears to ligaments - as well as head and spinal injuries.

The consequences can be short-term or life-long. Compensation claims for rugby match injuries are common.

Why ban tackling in school rugby particularly?

In many boys' schools, particularly in the independent sector, rugby is a compulsory part of the physical education curriculum from the age of 11. 

Like all team sports it plays an important role in developing character and helping young people develop positive traits, such as fair play and resilience. Children also learn how to deal with defeat, how to respect others and how to work together in teams. 

However, in an open letter to government ministers, chief medical officers and children's commissioners, a group of more than 70 academics and doctors have called for tackling in rugby to be banned for under-18s

The letter says that repeat concussions have been found to have a link to cognitive impairment, and may be associated with problems such as depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities. Children also took longer to recover to normal levels on measures of memory, reaction speed and post-concussive symptoms.

One of the letter's signatories, Prof Allyson Pollock, a professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London, stated that children are being exposed to serious and catastrophic risk of injury at school and an "absence of injury surveillance systems and primary prevention strategies is worrying."

It was also stated that the signatories did not have a contention with rugby as such, but believed that school children should not be forced to collide with other children as part of the national curriculum for physical education.

One solution would be to replace tackling by touch or tag rugby.

But is touch rugby such a good idea?

Certainly touch rugby introduces the handling and running skills central to the game, but many (including leading brain charity Headway) believe that learning safe tackling skills at a young age ensures players are better prepared for adult rugby than if they were banned from tackling until aged 18. 

Headway recognises that the sport has committed to improving concussion awareness and protocols over the last few years but says the government should provide similar training to all teachers - not just those conducting the sports lessons - to maintain that momentum.

Minimising risk

A spokeswoman from the Department for Education said that schools have been given the flexibility to organise and deliver a diverse and challenging PE curriculum best suited to the needs of their pupils. Within this they are expected to be aware of the associated risks and ensure these are minimised.

The Rugby Football Union said it took player safety "extremely seriously" and that recent changes meant young players underwent a "gradual and managed" introduction to the contact version of the game. It is currently conducting a three-year injury prevention and surveillance study on schoolboy injuries and has implemented a guidance programme known as Rugby Safe. 

The future for children's rugby

The campaign to ban tackling will continue with a petition on the change.org website. If this receives 100,000 signatures it will trigger the consideration of a debate on the issue by MPs

To speak to a solicitor about a claim for an injury at school, call us on 0800 612 7456.