Call for rugby concussion awareness lessons at grassroots

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Media captionThe Welsh Rugby Union does not have mandatory training on concussion for grassroots coaches or referees

More should be done to protect players from the dangers of concussion, the International Rugby Board's (IRB) former medical advisor said.

The call comes after researchers linked suffering repeated concussions from playing sport with memory loss, depression and early dementia.

Dr Barry O'Driscoll wants mandatory concussion awareness training for all grassroots rugby coaches and players.

He quit his IRB job claiming the body trivialised concussion. It denies this.

He said his call was directed at the unions in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland.

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) does not have mandatory training on concussion for grassroots coaches or referees.

Dr O'Driscoll told BBC Wales: "At the grassroots level - so all the way through - I would like to see a mandatory training as part of coaching courses [and] as part of schools lessons with young rugby players.

"They don't need to be experts on brain surgery. What they need to do is get across a) the signs and symptoms and b) what to do."

The WRU said it is committed to ensuring that player welfare is at the forefront of any decision making, and that it followed the guidelines set by the IRB.

It also said it is looking at devising a nationwide education programme for all levels of the game.

In England the Rugby Football Union (RFU) said it is an issue that is taken "seriously".

"This year we have distributed 200,000 'Headcase' cards to the game giving advice on recognising concussion and stressing the 'if in doubt, sit it out' message.

"Online resources include dedicated area of gives advice for players, parents, teachers, coaches, medics and other volunteers.

"Since 2008 around 35,000 English coaches have taken the IRB's Rugby Ready course which includes a concussion element."

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) said: "The IRFU observe all international best practices, as set out by the International Rugby Board.

"We have in place and continue to develop education and training campaigns to ensure player welfare is prioritised at all times."

A call for concussion awareness in schools has also been made by the father of a 14-year-old boy from Northern Ireland who died two years ago after playing a match for his school team.

Ben Robinson was knocked unconscious and suffered from concussion after several high-impact collisions during the game but he was allowed to carry on playing.

He collapsed again just before the end of the game and later died in hospital.

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Media captionAll coaches and referees should receive mandatory training, says Dr Barry O'Driscoll

His father Peter said he would still be alive if he had been taken off the pitch.

"At the start of the second half he was involved in a heavy tackle and he lay on the ground for a minute-and-a-half being treated," he said.

"He was assisted to his feet... his body language looked like an old man when he was walking around but he kept being involved in heavy tackles.

"It's ironic to think if he'd had a blood injury he'd have been taken off and he would be here today."

Mr Robinson is pressing for concussion awareness to be taught in schools across the UK.

And next month he will meet Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis to discuss bringing the idea to Wales, having already met Scotland and Northern Ireland's ministers.

"I've played rugby down the years - I don't want to change the game of rugby I just want to make it safer," Mr Robinson added.

"Have all the physicality you want, just make sure at grass roots level it's a safe playing environment for the children.

"We just want to make sure that it doesn't happen again and that we can educate people and maybe that helps numb the pain in some way."

The IRB said its approach to the issue was driven by evidence-based expert research.

"Concussion management is at the very heart of the IRB's player welfare strategy designed to protect players at all levels of the game and promote the very highest standards of education, coaching and medical care," a spokesperson said.

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