02/03/2016 11:56 GMT | Updated 03/03/2016 04:59 GMT

Row Brews Over Whether Contact Rugby Should Be Banned In Schools

Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Undated file photo of an U9's rugby match between Newark and Nottingham at Nottingham Rugby Club, as more than 70 doctors and health experts have written to the Government calling for a ban on tackling in school rugby games.

A row has erupted over whether contact rugby should be banned in schools after a group of more than 70 doctors wrote a letter calling for the government to remove the sport from school.

The letter, addressed to ministers, chief medical officers and commissioners and published on Wednesday, said students should play touch rugby as tackling and scrums pose a risk of injury.

Fractures, concussions, spinal and head injuries are among the consequences of under-18s playing the contact sport, with the health experts saying the conditions can have "short-term, life-long, and life-ending consequences for children".

"The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum," the letter read. "A link has been found between repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities, as well as longer term problems.

"Children take longer to recover to normal levels on measures of memory, reaction speed and post-concussive symptoms than adults."

But rugby professionals, including England player James Haskell, have rejected the calls for the ban.

"Any physical activity brings with it risks," wrote Haskell in a blog for HuffPost UK. "Rugby is one of the very few sports in the modern era that has managed to retain its core values; working as a team, respecting the referee, the opposition and leaving everything on the pitch..

"Now apparently all this needs to abandoned and replaced with a totally sanitised version of the game, which will inevitably lead in the long term, to its demise..

"Rather than just ban everything, can't we seek a sensible middle ground solution, which is look at the causes rather than just the outcomes?"

Tom May, another retired professional player, added: "It's so far wide of the mark it's unbelievable. We can't cover our kids in cotton wool throughout the years of them growing up.

"It's boring and so are the comments laid out today by so-called experts."

The letter prompted incredulity from members of the public, who didn't hesitate to express their views on social media.

Across the pond, American football has come under scrutiny for the number of concussions sustained by young players. Coaches at Ivy League universities recently agreed to abandon full-contact tackling practice. However the number of former athletes who have sued the NFL since 2011 amounts to more than 4,500, compared to the few and far between rugby-related cases reported in the UK.

Signatory Professor Allyson Pollock from Queen Mary University of London, who has campaigned about the dangers of rugby told The Telegraph: "Parents expect the state to look after their children when they are at school.

“Rugby is a high-impact collision sport and given that children are more susceptible to injuries such as concussion, the absence of injury surveillance systems and primary prevention strategies is worrying.

"Children are being left exposed to serious and catastrophic risk of injury.

"As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK and Irish governments should ensure the safety of rugby, by removing the contact from the children's game in schools."