The open letter, forwarded by Allyson Pollock and countersigned by over 70 academics, calling on the Government to ban rugby in schools clearly sent reverberations around the rugby world this week.
But who is Allyson Pollock and why does she seem to have a bug bear with the game of rugby which has deep traditional roots in the UK. She is a professor in public health matters at a top London university. Her work and research has powerful lobby to sway government think tanks and policy on many matters relating to public health.
So why the bug bear with rugby? It is reported for over ten years this professor has been lobbying about rugby and it's contact nature and injuries to young persons. She is not just an interfering busy body...around 2004 her own son suffered a number of injuries from playing rugby at school including a broken leg and in another incident upper body injury to the head.
Rightly so, as a parent, Ms Pollock was duly alarmed, shocked and angry...basically any parent would be as that is a fact of life. Most parents would have to simply face up to the hard school of knocks...such things happen! But for Ms Pollock, in her career, education and academic work she had the tools to rattle the feathers of the school and the rugby association in realising their responsibilities in dealing with such incidents.
So since then she has penned many articles on injury to young persons in rugby and calls for the banning of the tackle and scrum or for the rugby hierarchy to change the rules and laws of the game among youth teams. She is campaigning for an outright ban of rugby in schools and be replaced with a non contact alternative...tag or touch rugby.
She is prepared to start an e-petition in this matter so that it forces debate in parliament and she clearly has the ambition, factual resentment and academic advantage to succeed in that quest. But will her quest have repercussion for the game in general...certainly there is very real threat to this very traditional deep rooted cultural sport in that if you root out the contact element at youth level then future generations will never learn the disciplines required to absorb contact at senior level.
Contact in rugby, in my experience, is introduced at the age of nine at club level. It is phased in over a number of years and includes ways on how to fall to ground and protecting oneself in contact situations on the field. In schools contact is not played until year seven, tag or touch is predominant in primary schools. At secondary level, the contact element is firstly only put before boys on the curriculum, rarely offered towards girls.
Clearly there is argument and differentiation on how rugby is delivered in schools as compared to club rugby. There is a sad lacking in duty of care and primary prevention and significant shifts in schools moving away from physical sport to alternative fitness such as dance - which is hugely resented by boys.
One cannot remove contact elements in rugby just so in schools alone. If you are to have rigid policy protecting children then club rugby would have to adapt as well. Rugby here could follow the rules and laws as in French and NZ and have calendar year groups, weight groups, uncontested scrums at youth level...so would such a move satisfy the quest of Ms.Pollock? I doubt it!
Remember this, it doesn't matter how much you change the rules or to what extent you ban or reduce the element of contact there will always be that one child who wants to put the fear of God into the opposition; there will always be that one child who thinks they are clever ducking and diving attempted tackles; and there will always be that one child who kicks against the tackle trying to stay on their feet, swinging their elbows in wild unison. This is where inherent danger lies when those playing ignore the technique and discipline demanded by the sport.
The RFU is taking rugby programmes into schools in a serious way and has a long way to go to achieve its aims. Also the alarm bells ringing out around rugby injuries ought be put into comparisons not only against other contact sports but non-contact sport such as gymnastics and cycling. And then consider this how many children are hurt just at break time alone...probably a comparable number. Then what about outside school such as skate parks? Are councils dismantling these parks? Are schools stopping break time activity?
I bid you farewell and let you all make your informed choice and debate on this matter. Stay safe.