Former Ireland rugby international Bernard Jackman believes the sport has woken up to the dangers of head injuries, amid warnings that litigation arising out of serious cases could lead to more effective player welfare.
Jackman, now head coach of Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales, was one of the speakers at a conference at the headquarters of the Law Society of Ireland entitled “On Deadly Ground – The Standard of Care & Head Injuries in Rugby”.
The conference was presented by barrister Doireann O’Mahony, who outlined how numerous parties involved in a game in which a player is seriously injured could be liable to legal challenge.
Ms O’Mahony said the risk from head injuries, both acute and chronic, was “very real” and that related litigation should be looked at as a process for player welfare.
“Such litigation can hopefully be beneficial both in the immediate context for the welfare of the injured party seeking compensation and also in the wider context of player welfare — the hope is that litigation cases serve as a warning which gives rise to a more effective player welfare regulatory system within the sport, greater vigilance from all parties involved in matches with respect to player safety, and improved knowledge in the greater population as to player safety issues in the sport,” she said.
Ms O’Mahony said head injuries in rugby could give rise to criminal liability or civil liability and that those liable could include an opposing player, that player’s team, the referee, a doctor or physiotherapist, the player’s own coach, club, school or union, and even the international governing body of the sport.
Other speakers outlined the growth in the size of those now playing rugby compared with 20 years ago, particularly at senior level. But Jackman said better coaching and better fitness levels would limit the likelihood of serious injury in what was a contact sport.
He also said it was imperative that serious head injuries, when they did occur, were treated as or more seriously as other injuries such as a broken arm.
“There has been a couple of high-profile errors where medics have not picked up on concussion as well as they could have,” he said.
But he said the increased focus on those errors would have a positive effect in future, adding that he did not believe the laws of the game had to change. “We have broken the back of this issue in terms of people understanding it’s a serious issue.”
He said he believed there was scope of an increased number of serious injuries in other sports such as gaelic games, but that rugby had reacted to the issues that had arisen.
“I think everyone understands if you play a contact sport there is an element of risk,” he said.
Delegates attending yesterday’s event have raised nearly €10,000 for the charity Headway which provides brain injury services and support.
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