Rugby’s not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport – dancing is a contact sport

To paraphrase legendary American Football coach Vince Lombardi – he was saying this about football, but it still holds, I think you’ll agree.

Rugby is getting quite anxious about the impact of these collisions – quite understandably.

Former England hooker and world cup winner, Steve Thompson has made a documentary for the BBC about how the early onset dementia which ended his career has impacted on his life. It’s pretty harrowing stuff.

Researchers are finding ever-more-worrying evidence of the link between rugby impacts and long term brain damage. The largest study to date of former rugby players quantifies the link between neurodegenerative disease and repeated traumatic head injuries. The study was led by Dr Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist. It compared former Scottish international players with the general population and found players were twice as likely to get dementia and more than three times as likely to get Parkinson’s disease. There was also a dramatic 15-fold increase in risk of motor neurone disease. Current players train harder and compete more than those studied, which suggests these numbers will get worse.

In a separate study in New Zealand, researchers at the University of Canterbury found rugby players suffer levels of trauma, during a game, similar to that experienced in a car crash.

This is all pretty terrifying and the authorities are all over it, as they should be. Though not as much as some commentators would like.

It does raise one very stark and obvious question for me. Call it the herd of elephants in the room if you like. While we’re quite rightly becoming anxious about the dangers in rugby, how can it be that we still have another sport, commanding huge audiences and prize money all over the world, which consists of big men whacking each other in the head. This isn’t just incidental to the game, like rugby. It is the game.

The dangers of boxing could hardly be more obvious. The recent Benn-Eubank fight in the UK was called off due to a doping issue, but the fight’s back-story should make us stop and think.

As Tortoise Media reported the story:

“Boxing is stalked by the ghosts and tragedies of the past. The chaos of this week in British boxing cannot shut out the distressing memories that still haunt the Eubank and Benn families. Michael Watson ended up in a coma for months, and his life has never been the same, after he and Chris Eubank Sr met in the ring in 1991. Nigel Benn showed such ferocity four years later that his opponent, Gerald McClellan, went blind and suffered terrible brain damage. Chris Eubank Jr’s fists sent Nick Blackwell tumbling into a coma in 2016. Both families have been scarred by the damage done in the ring.”

And that’s just one story of many.

I fully admit that the spectacle of a fight between powerful athletes is something to behold. I have enjoyed watching boxing in the past. It’s exciting and there’s a certain instinctive human appeal in the physical contest. I’ve even had boxing lessons, for goodness sake.

But looked at next to the current furore in the rugby world, it just looks like a crazy anomaly.

Note that boxing is taught to kids aged 7 and above. My local club starts at age 8.

Is that a good idea?

Is that sport?