It was saddening today to hear that a group of 70 doctors and academics have written an open letter to the government recommending that tackling be banned in rugby for children under the age of 18. Their opinion is well supported by evidence. There is no doubt that tackling in rugby causes injuries and sometimes these injuries are serious, and sometimes tragic. But, strange though this is to write down, isn't the risk of injury part of the attraction of rugby?
As a society we are becoming increasingly averse to any kind of risk and intolerant of any danger. This recommendation feels like another step in the inexorable progression of a safety culture which threatens to restrict so many aspects of our lives. If we are to ban tackling in rugby because of the risk of injury then what do we do about horse riding, BMX riding or trampolining? Anybody who has spent time in a children's A&E department will have seen serious injuries from all of these activities.
My worry is that if we do not expose children to any risk then when will they learn how to calculate risk for themselves, and when will they learn how to tolerate risk?
I have spent many hours with my children in playgrounds watching other children carefully lie on their tummies and slide backwards down the slide in the 'safest way', and found myself wondering when someone decided that there needed to be a safe way to go down a slide. When did the slide in a children's playground become an object to be feared? If these children need to be coached to do something as benign as playing in a playground, will someone then coach them in the safest way to climb a tree or ride their bike down a steep hill? Or are those sorts of activities to be completely off limits?
Everything is risky and the more we scrutinise every aspect of our lives the more we become aware of just how risky everything is. If you think too hard about it, it is utterly paralysing. We need people to be comfortable with risk to function as a society and to function as an economy, whether it is the physical risk that we need our soldiers to be comfortable with, or the financial risks that our entrepreneurs must tolerate. It is too late to teach people about risk by the time they are adults because, by then, they will be too scared to learn.
Risk is inherent in the joy of rugby. Running out onto the pitch with your teammates knowing that you will be taking risks with each other, and for each other, is one of the reasons that the camaraderie in a rugby team is so strong.
This open letter makes a valid point but those who have written it have focused only on the risk of injury in rugby and ignored all the positive benefits that rugby provides such as physical fitness, team work, resilience and risk tolerance.
I agree that children and parents need to be aware of the risks of contact sports but, just because something is risky, doesn't mean it should be banned.