David Horspool

Stop calling rugby ‘child abuse’

It’s time to tackle the myths about the game

  • From Spectator Life
(Getty Images)

The look on the doctor’s face as he showed my parents the X-ray of my skull was quizzical but reassuring. ‘We were a bit worried by this line on the left,’ he indicated a very thin line from the top of the cranium, straight down. ‘But we saw that there is a line exactly similar on the other side of the X-ray, which persuaded us that it was a problem with the film, not your son’s skull’.

The violent element in rugby has always been controversial. That is one of the reasons football came about

We were free to leave, with advice to watch out if I felt sleepy or sick for the next few days. I did get a bit of time off school. Rugby had brought me to A&E. I was a committed but not very adept full back, which meant, from the age of about ten, facing down one of those lumbering giants all schools seem to produce, as he burst through my teammates’ defences. Inevitably I would be flattened as he thundered towards the try line. Rugby was never my favourite sport to play, but even occasional participation led to more doctors’ visits; one occurred after coming round on the field and attempting to take my place lining up for the wrong team. My parents steered me towards football, and I became less of a regular at casualty.

You might think that, with a personal history like that, I would welcome news of an academic article on rugby in schools with the eye-catching title ‘Sport Structured Brain Trauma is Child Abuse’. The authors of the report, Eric Anderson, Gary Turner, Jack Hardwicke and Keith D. Parry, know that putting it like that is bound to get them noticed, and it has worked.

Can they really mean it, though? The violent element in rugby has always been controversial.

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