The top official of the English rugby union says the sport is safe to play and the future of the rugby union is not at risk from potential multi-million dollar compensation claims made by former players with brain damage. Bill Sweeney, the executive director of the RFU, says, however, that the union is wary of the potential impact on the game’s image and that making rugby completely risk-free is “a journey without conclusion.”
Like everyone else, the RFU has been “very sad and distraught” to learn that 2003 World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson is among several players showing signs of early-onset dementia in his early 40s. However, as of yet, Twickenham is still awaiting precise details of the proposed legal proceedings and Sweeney believes his organization would be insured in the event of a large future payment.
“I have no reason to believe that we would not be covered by this, but we will not get into that detailed discussion until we see the nature of what is being shipped,” Sweeney said. “It’s hypothetical at this stage because we still don’t know what ‘this’ is.”
Given that the people diagnosed so far include Thompson and Michael Lipman, both former England internationals who spent much of their club careers in the Premiership, the RFU is well aware of the potentially dire repercussions if rugby begins to be perceived as too much. dangerous. “It would be false to say that we are not concerned about reputational risk, but we certainly believe that it is manageable,” Sweeney said.
“We believe that everything is being done, and will continue to be done, to ensure that rugby is a safe sport for children. We are dealing with the red-hot emotion of what a really difficult human story is… but most people understand the benefits you get from playing rugby. They still feel like it’s a sport that they get more from than it takes from them. “
Sweeney also argues that American football, a $ 765 million compensation deal for former players affected by the NFL in 2013, and rugby are two different sports that cannot be casually grouped together in the context of brain injuries. “It’s very hypothetical, science is not black and white,” Sweeney said. “There is no scientific evidence of a causal link between concussion and CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], that is not something proven. There are differences between American football and rugby union.
“But we do have to allay people’s fears and I think he does that by having a really balanced, fact-based conversation about what the issues are. We need the debate to be really factual and expose all the details. So, as with so many things in life, there is a balance between risk and reward that you make a decision about.
“Our evidence shows that rugby is no more dangerous than other sports. But this is a journey without conclusion. This is not a project with a start and end date. As players get fitter and stronger, we have to find ways to adapt. “
To date, Sweeney has yet to personally speak to Thompson (the RFU says he had an outdated phone number), but rugby director Conor O’Shea has been understandably moved by the diagnosis of the former Northampton prostitute. . “I find what is happening really annoying… but the game that you see between England and France is not the same game that your son gets to play at the under-8 level. All the way is graduated. “
Meanwhile, the financial effects of Covid-19 will cost the RFU £ 135 million in revenue in the 2020-21 fiscal year, but Sweeney anticipates an overall loss of “just” £ 30 million, partly as a result of the cutting the RFU 165 roles and saving £ 30 million. “RFU’s business model remains inherently strong, but it will take a few more years to get back out of debt,” he said. Weeney also confirmed that discussions on establishing a renewed global calendar “are still ongoing. “
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