02/03/2016 10:09 GMT | Updated 03/03/2017 05:12 GMT

In Defence of Rugby - The Real Issue Is Choice


The call for schools to ban tackling in rugby is misplaced and would seem to do little credit to those making the suggestion. Here's why:

Tackling is an inherent part of the game. It has been suggested that tagging or touch-tackling could be used instead, but what of other physical contact situations - scrums, rucks, mauls, line-outs.

So if in reality we are talking about banning rugby at school, does that mean we are also saying it is inherently unsafe for young people? If that is the case, then surely under 18s should not be playing rugby for the clubs that thousands and thousands of kids belong to.

And if it is not just rugby , but contact sports that are the problem, then we have a lengthening list of prohibited activities. Boxing, judo, GAA football, lacrosse, water polo.

If we are worried, ultimately, about our kids engaging in unsafe activities, then perhaps we need to rule out school ski-ing trips, or banning u18s from ice-skating or surfing?

No, no no the rugby-cullers will say - it's all about what is proportionate. What is the level of risk?

Well one way of mitigating risk is through effective regulation. And the Rugby Football Union (RFU) has a comprehensive programme - including more recently schools rugby. There is considerable and never-ending debate about how to phase in certain moves, what the right level of contact is for each age group, how games are referred and clubs managed.

Could there be more? Yes - there is too much variation in the standards of referring. Yellow or red cards are seen too rarely. Schools should be regulated as closely as clubs. More auditing would be desirable.

But rugby is one of those games that are a true team sport. It caters for kids with a wide variety of builds, statures, innate speed and strength. The team can only win as a unit. When properly managed, the unavoidable risk is contained by regulation.

And actually, getting kids involved in regular physical activity is a big issue for our society. So is working collaboratively. And so is providing a sensible and staged pathway into one of our national sports so people don't get to adult-hood and dive straight in without any understanding of technique or tactics.

And there is of course one further point about seeking to ban rugby (or tackling) in schools. Most educational establishments these days are independent of central control. They have considerable autonomy, so it is unclear to what extent any instruction will be complied with.

I do not buy the argument that rugby is "character forming" or "toughens people up". Often these are poor euphemisms for bullying or abuse. And is not that the real core issue? This isn't about rugby tackling or not - this is to do with choice, preparation, and support.

Our school kids and their parents should have the right to chose whether or not to participate in contact sports, and be encouraged by the knowledge that they will be well coached and managed. It is no fun and to no advantage for 11 year olds to be chucked into an environment that if poorly coached and badly managed, is as unsafe as the critics claim. That's the real issue.