Concussions: Will rugby still exist in 50 years' time?

Ben Kay, a 2003 World Cup winner, is concerned that rugby is not as safe as it could be, and parents will no longer allow children to take up playing.

The All Blacks beat Springboks 19-17 on 25 September 2021. Picture: @springboks/Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG - Player welfare in rugby is a hot-button issue within the game. As discussions on the safety of players, prevention of head injuries and treatment of concussions continue, there is a feeling amongst some former players that the damage has already been done.

Ben Kay, a 2003 World Cup winner, is concerned that rugby is not as safe as it could be, and parents will no longer allow children to take up playing. Because of this, he fears the game could no longer exist in 50 years’ time.
The former England lock is taking part in an ongoing study of 50 former elite rugby players, aged between 40 to 59, to determine whether they are at a greater risk of early signs of dementia.

Kay’s former teammate, Steve Thompson, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2021 at the age of 42.

Sean van Staden, a Johannesburg-based sports scientist, does not believe that rugby will disappear nor that interest in the sport will wane. He said the commercial aspect of the sport would ensure its continued viability but the results of research into the long-term effects of head injuries should encourage action from administrators.

“I don’t believe rugby will not be around in 50 years’ time. Everything’s obviously run by a multi-billion dollar sport. I think it’s great to highlight what could happen [to a player] if they take the path of going into rugby and the governing bodies don’t put the right measures in place,” said van Staden.

Van Staden thinks young players will not be discouraged by the research findings. The opportunity of high achievement and monetary outweigh any downsides, making the risk of playing a reasonable one to take.
“The sport brings glory, it brings fame, it brings money but only for the small percentage of those who make it in the elite. But every little kid’s dream after the World Cup is to become a Springbok. They don’t worry about getting concussed. They see it as part [of the game].”

He added that the sport’s governing bodies must put strict safety policies in place that must be adhered to and that parents should play a role in ensuring all safety steps are followed and standards maintained.