Rugby safety, and why not GAA?

Matt Perry and Allyson Pollock were on Today yesterday debating the dangers of rugby for school children. Well, I say debate, more like Allyson massacred Matt in an unsportsmanlike or, more accurately, professional manner on an issue that she has researched and campaigned on over the past decade.

I love rugby, I always have. There is always a danger when you have always liked something that you keep on loving it just because your old self tells you to. I came to this realisation recently when I tried out refereeing and realised it wasn’t for me. I started to question why I liked rugby, and I realised that it was when I played it that I truly loved it, and now that I don’t have the time (nor, increasingly, the body) I cannot love it in the same way except through my memories of playing. On the other hand, I can still regularly play indoor football, which I also like very much (note, I still don’t love indoor football!).

The safety aspect of rugby I have have often dismissed out-of-hand too, but the significance of a serious spinal injury is so immediate that it cannot be easily ignored. They so often get written off as freak accidents, even by those who receive them. The truth might be that they are freak accidents, but they shouldn’t be written off. The freakishness of them does not make them unpredictable statistically, and the statistics of serious injury occurrence can be compared with other sports.

Without citing all the articles, rugby has a relatively high prevalence rate of injury – higher than football and gaelic football in matches. More importantly though, for Allyson Pollock’s arguments, are the prevalence of serious head and spinal injuries, which are much higher than the other games. In Gaelic football they appear to be genuinely freak accidents, like the recent head injury to Ronan Clarke by hitting a post, and I suspect that is also true for football, although heading can’t help the likelihood of head clashes. In rugby, professional rugby concussion rates per 1000 playing hours seem to have never dropped below 3, and have risen in recent years to over 10. This compares with 17 for boxing apparently (alarming close really), and <0.3 all head injuries in gaelic football.

I know what sport i want to play in the future should I ever find enough time (other than indoor football of course), and although I used to always imagine myself coaching a childs’ rugby team, I know what sport I will try and encourage in the future: GAA

The funny thing is, even though I do love rugby, I think Gaelic Football is a better game overall and I really hope it can grow in the UK the way Beano has managed to help it grow (with many other of course!) in Europe… In the end, gaelic football skills can only help elite rugby anyway, if players choose to play rugby later on.

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