2022 is the year of player welfare

Sir Bill Beaumont and World Rugby have reinforced their positive stance on player welfare in rugby and unveiled enhanced plans to make progress in this field.

At the start of the year Sir Bill Beaumont, World Rugby Chairman, announced that 2022 will be the year of player welfare in rugby. He reaffirmed World Rugby’s ongoing commitment to advancing player welfare following the six-point plan that was announced last July.

This plan made a commitment to wide-ranging engagement with the rugby family across key welfare matters. It included initiatives across the life cycle of a player – future, current and former. It recognised the differences in game shape and injury risk between the elite and community game and aimed to reduce injuries at all levels of the game.

In a statement earlier this year Sir Bill Beaumont outlined the progress made with the six-point plan:

  • ·We have implemented welfare-focused global law trials, launched injury-preventing community game law variations and continue to evaluate reduced tackle height and the impact of substitutions on injuries.
  • ·We have launched evidence-based contact training load guidance, which sets out the advised limits that promote welfare and performance best practice.
  • ·We have launched our commitment to establish brain health services for former players and are partnering with leading independent experts on wider brain health education
  • ·We have partnered on ground-breaking research using Prevent Biometrics’ instrumented mouthguard technology to understand the frequency and nature of head impacts at every level of the game – this will inform how we will make the sport safer for everyone.
  • ·We have commissioned women’s specific research and launched the first-ever women’s welfare advisory group to steer unique research and injury prevention programmes for women ahead of what will be a massive year for women’s rugby with Rugby World Cup 2021, Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 and the Commonwealth Games Sevens.
  • ·We are listening constantly to players, medical experts, scientists and lobby groups with the common aim of making the sport the best it can be. In the UK, World Rugby, the RFU and WRU have been actively engaged with the government’s inquiry into Concussion in Sport.

It has to be said that World Rugby are sticking to their commitment and going above and beyond to progress the sport and make it as safe as possible for players.

In Sir Bill Beaumont World Rugby have someone in charge you feel really knows the game and what it means to players and fans at all levels. Quite often you have organisations, not just in sport, announce action plans and the results don’t follow. This is clearly not the case for the player welfare action plan. The work that has been done over the past 6-9 months and the initiatives that have been introduced should be congratulated.

And it doesn’t stop there. In his statement Sir Bill Beaumont added; “In 2022, we will kick on and take our support for player welfare to the next level. We will further implement our brain health action plan, supporting former players who have worries about their brain health via a global network of services run in partnership with national unions that provide access to specialist support and information, and to further understand any links between the game and neurodegenerative diseases.

“We will redouble on our investment to better identify and manage head injuries, promote individualised risk-based rehabilitation following a head injury and we will also sign innovative technology and research partnerships that will inform meaningful changes.”

This shows that World Rugby is taking player welfare extremely seriously. They are increasing investment, time and effort into making the game for everyone safer to play. Inevitably there will be critics saying that the game is changing beyond recognition and that the high-risk element of rugby is why they play it.

“But we have to remember that for majority who play rugby it is just a hobby not a full-time profession, so steps have to be taken to avoid life changing injuries.

Even for professional players, where the risks can be argued are higher, their playing days are only a relatively small percentage of their whole working life. It’s important that their health and safety is a high priority of the sports global governing body so players can prosper in life after playing rugby.

The world as we know it is constantly evolving, rugby is certainly part of that, and World Rugby have to be commended for being at the forefront of progress in player welfare.