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There was an outcry in February 2014 during the Wales V England Six Nations defeat when George North, continued to play despite having received two blows to the head and the second certainly resulting in unconsciousness.
Being knocked unconscious is unfortunately part and parcel of playing contact sports such as Rugby. Increasingly though there has been more awareness raised on the long term impacts of the dangers of playing your favourite sport.
With 94% of elite level rugby players experiencing one or more concussions then this is not something to be ignored.
The World Rugby Protocol states that a player should be immediately and permanently removed from the field of play where there are any visible symptoms or suspicion of a potential concussion, but in practice this is not always the case. In George North’s case his team and medics simply did not witness the concussion and he was left on the field to play.
A major study of Rugby Union players (both professional and amateur) in New Zealand, comparing brain function with non-contact sportspersons (Hockey and Cricket) indicates that there possibly are long term brain issues for the rugby players and for people who have been concussed more than four times.
Researcher Professor Hume said rugby players who has suffered four or more concussions performed worse in tests measuring mental and physical coordination, motor speed and multi-tasking. World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper described player welfare as his number one priority, saying he wanted more research into preventing and managing concussion. “While the study does not provide any definitive conclusions, we are alive to all potential risks and, as such, we will continue to prioritise research in this very important area,” he said.
It is clear there needs to be a continued cultural change in the world of rugby and contact sports in general, as the effects of brain injury can be far-reaching and long term. But perhaps the hardest task is getting a player to want to come off the field in the first place.