Birmingham, United Kingdom (4E Sports) – A motor neuroscience expert said the International Rugby Board (IRB) could face a National Football League-type lawsuit if it fails to place sufficient importance on treating concussion.
“I believe we’re not too far off from coaches and sporting organizations being held accountable for the damage and we’re seeing that with the big lawsuit in the NFL,” said Dr. Michael Grey, a reader in motor neuroscience at the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Grey was referring to the lawsuit by more than 4,500 former American football players against the NFL for concussion-related brain injuries. Two months ago, the NFL agreed to pay $765 million as a settlement.
In their lawsuit, the players said they suffered dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s disease that they blamed on blows to the head sustained in gridiron.
“Absolutely a sport like rugby union could face something similar in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if something like that happens. If we do nothing when we know there’s a problem, then I could see that type of lawsuit occurring,” Grey said.
Grey made the statement after IRB former adviser Dr. Barry O’Driscoll, in an interview with BBC, accused the board of failing to address the importance of treating concussion in the sport.
The Rugby Football Union’s head of medicine, Dr Simon Kemp, insists there is no proven association between head trauma and dementia but Grey disagrees.
“We have very good evidence of the link between concussion and dementia,” Grey said. “‘Scientifically proven’: that was the phrase used to deny the link between cigarettes and cancer. It’s an easy thing to say.
“Have we scientifically proved it? There is very good evidence now that multiple concussions can lead to premature ageing and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. That danger is very real.”
While Grey agrees with the RFU’s position that children should be encouraged to play sport, including rugby, to combat the “growing obesity epidemic in this country”, he cites an urgent need for greater education over concussion across all levels of the game.
Grey’s two-year study will examine athletes across a variety of sports, hoping to establish biomarkers to inform better when it is healthy to return to play.