England Rugby CEO makes “unbelievable” claims about rugby injuries.

In the midst of managing this concussion crisis, the CEO of England Rugby is quoted in The Guardian as saying “Our evidence shows that rugby is no more dangerous than other sports”.
This is not believable, because actual scientific evidence shows the exact opposite. Here’s a sample of this evidence:

This study published only a few weeks ago and endorsed by England Rugby found that: “Across the spectrum of participation, contact rugby union has high injury and concussion incidence rates relative to other sports…”
This study found that 48 percent of Irish U20 players surveyed had sustained at least one concussion, and the average was 2.25 concussions.
This study of Ireland school rugby players aged 12 to 18 found a lifetime prevalence of diagnosed concussion at 19.4 percent, and an annual concussion prevalence of 6.6%.
This study of 416 New Zealand high school rugby players found that “69% of players had sustained a suspected concussion”.
This study claimed “Compared with semi-contact team sports such as soccer, rugby union has 4 times the incidence of injury, with the potential for more serious injuries.”

Rugby governing bodies are no strangers to promoting false information about injuries to children. In 2017, England Rugby retracted their entire Rugby Safe booklet after myself and Prof Alan Bairner informed England Rugby that they were making false and misleading claims. (Those false and misleading claims were pretty much exactly what the current England Rugby CEO is claiming now.)
A few months earlier, myself and Prof Allyson Pollock explained that World Rugby had made false and misleading claims about injuries to children. CEO Brett Gosper accepted this in a journal (though not through a press release), and they eventually retracted the misleading material. (Again, those false and misleading claims were pretty much exactly what the current England Rugby CEO is claiming now.)

Yesterday’s false and misleading claims by the England Rugby CEO show an ongoing pattern of risk trivialisation. Across many sports, there have been abuses and mistreatment of children in sport. Making misleading claims about injury risks to children is an assault on the credulity of parents and children. It is a corruption of the scientific canon and dereliction of England Rugby’s duty of care.

On a more personal level, it’s particularly disturbing that data on traumatic injuries to children is being ignored by the leadership of England rugby. It’s like those children’s injuries don’t matter enough.

I am particularly surprised such a wild claim about injury risk is being made when England Rugby is facing questions about it’s treatment of professional players. I call for England Rugby to retract their most recent wild, unbelievable claim.

Lastly, here is a draft infographic which focuses on the risks in rugby…

What are the injury risks involved in playing rugby?

I’ve had some interesting interactions over the years with organisations who have made bold (inaccurate) claims about the risks of participating in rugby. Here is a humble start to shape some information for parents who want to know more about some of the immediate and possible long term injury risks that come from playing rugby. I’ve tried to be as concise and candid as possible. Weighing up what to include and exclude is a an important issue when shaping and crafting injury risk information for public consumption. Feedback is welcome on this!

An urgent call for clarity regarding England Rugby’s injury claims – update

A couple of weeks ago, Prof Alan Bairner and I wrote an analysis of England Rugby’s false and misleading injury rate claims. Here is the link:


I can now report that England Rugby responded. Here is the initial response – with names redacted:

Dear Joe, 

Thank you very much for your email and for bringing this to attention.

The RFU takes player safety extremely seriously. I would like to take the opportunity to respond to your email and to you and Professor Bairner on your editorial (An urgent call for clarity regarding England Rugby’s injury claims). 

We acknowledge that an editing error was made in the wording used as part of our Rugby Safe booklet, which was published two years ago. It should have read: There is no evidence to show that rugby poses a specifically greater risk of catastrophic injury than other sports and other activities to align with the graphic used directly after it on page eight (screengrab attached). This was a mistake as part of the publishing process.

We want to ensure all our resources include accurate information, so will be undertaking the following:

  • Amending the 2015 Rugby Safe booklet to remove the inaccurate wording with immediate effect (the 2015 document has already been removed from our website)
  • Publishing an updated Rugby Safe booklet next season using the latest research and findings

The RFU has apologised to Colin Fuller for the error. It was not our intention to mislead. We will continue our ongoing commitment and work to ensure player welfare is central to all that we do.
Yours sincerely,

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For more see:

Piggin, J. & Bairner, A. (2017) An urgent call for clarity regarding England Rugby’s injury claims. Nordic Sport Science Forum http://idrottsforum.org/feature-piggin-bairner170523/