By David Williams
Wales flanker Josh Navidi is among a group of players calling for rugby to bring in meaningful change to reduce head injuries.
Navidi – who missed the first half of this season after suffering a concussion in a training session for Cardiff Blues – is backing Progressive Rugby to lobby World Rugby for urgent reform to the way the game is organised and officiated.
The group have written an open letter to World Rugby which is also signed by current and former players that includes Alix Popham, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia back in December.
Navidi and Popham have joined the likes of former Scarlets player and Canada international Jamie Cudmore in backing Progressive Rugby, which also comprises coaches, referees, teachers at rugby-playing schools and medical experts such as Dr Barry O’Driscoll, a former advisor to the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby).
In an open letter to World Rugby, the lobby group outlined concerns, along with a suggested plan of action to improve overall safety and protect players.
These proposals include a limit on contact in training, restricting match substitutions to injured players only – to reduce the incidence of fresh players making high impact tackles on tired players – and a guaranteed minimum number of days off between seasons.
They would also include a career ‘health passport’ for players and increased education at all levels regarding head injuries and concussion management.
The group says an extension of the minimum number of days before a player is allowed to return following concussion should be set at at least three weeks, while a ‘concussion fund’ should be established by World Rugby, and training packages established to teach safe tackling techniques for young players.
Popham would welcome both swift dialogue and direct action.
“For us it is getting in front of them as soon as possible,” he said.
“The more time they (World Rugby) keep their head in their sand on this, not talk to us and not implement the changes we want is wasted time.
“The proposals we want to put in place are for the 2021/2022 season, and that is not that far away, so the sooner the better – hopefully within the next month.”
O’Driscoll, himself a former Ireland international player, added: “They have done nothing, we have got to move quicker on this.
Please read and share 🙏🏻❤️🧠🏉👊🏻Progressive Rugby’ group featuring Haskell demands World Rugby reform over brain injuries https://t.co/9iSsLdpjeZ
— Alix Popham (@AlixPopham) February 17, 2021
“Let’s do something – alter the amount of head trauma in the game without destroying the integrity (of the sport).”
World Rugby issued a statement in response to Progressive Rugby’s open letter, stressing “the welfare of the global rugby family is, and has always been” its “priority”.
“We take our responsibility very seriously and care deeply about our past, present and future players,” the statement added, highlighting several of the proposed initiatives are already operational or are being examined.
“We are encouraged that the group are championing a number of initiatives that are already operational or being considered and we are open to constructive discussions with them regarding their proposals.”