Education, not sanitisation, says Middlesex’s James Haskell
Posted on 8 March 2016
Safer to play rugby than cycle? England rugby star James Haskell calls for education not sanitisation in tackling ban furore
In the latest chapter of the great tackling debate, England and Wasps rugby star, James Haskell has called for proper training and education to be implemented in schools playing rugby rather than an outright ban on tackling following a petition last week from 70 doctors and academics to do just that.
Haskell, who is currently representing England in the 6 Nations, wants to find a middle ground with safety and education used to show youth players how to tackle correctly rather than banning contact outright. He argues that while concussion is a hot topic, it’s arguably safer to play rugby than it is to cycle home from school.
In an open letter sent to ministers, health experts from around the country said that injuries sustained by children in the ‘high-impact collision’ sport had lifelong consequences. The letter attributed two-thirds of injuries and concussions reported in youth rugby to improper tackles and contact or collision in the scrum. Writing in the letter, signatory Prof Allyson Pollock, said that evidence collected over 12 years showed those aged up to 19 had a 28% chance of getting injured per 15 matches played, with 90% of injuries requiring at least seven days off school. The ban on tackling would see schools playing touch or non-contact rugby instead.
While the rugby community has been vocal in its stance, arguing that touch rugby in schools would sanitise the game, Haskell suggests that many injuries are caused by incorrect training and advocates for proper coaching to reduce injuries rather than a blanket ban on one of the intrinsic elements of a national sport. The flanker and Wasps captain is known for his tackling prowess and has recently completed his first book on rugby training, conditioning and fitness, part of which deals with proper and safe techniques.
He said, “Of course I have respect for the opinions of doctors and absolutely we need to listen to their concerns. However 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. Touch rugby is great in the park after work. However I don’t think it would fill Twickenham that often!
“Any physical activity brings with it risks. In most other walks of life risks are dealt with through awareness programmes aligned to proper training. I am neither a doctor nor an academic and would never wish to suggest otherwise but I think I am pretty safe in saying that the vast majority of rugby accidents and collisions happen because the people involved are not tackling properly, with the result being that their head is in the wrong place, which is what causes the issue.
“My response to this call is not to throw the baby out with the bath water but to ensure both children and adults wanting to take up the game are taught how to tackle properly. This is a serious concern and shouldn’t be swept under the carpet but equally can’t we bring a reasoned approach to the subject? Rather than just ban everything, can’t we seek a sensible middle ground solution, which is to look at the causes rather than just the outcomes? We need to teach people to play the game properly to ensure they are competent, prepared and capable, without the need to destroy a brilliant sport because there is an element of danger.
“Whilst I do not want to undermine what these well intentioned people are saying, I wager it’s probably safer for children to play rugby than it is for them to cycle on the roads.”
Haskell’s book, An Introduction to Becoming and Remaining RugbyFit, will be available next week in print. It is the ultimate guide to training and fitness, penned by the Wasps captain to help amateur and youth players of either gender make the transition towards a more professional level.
To find out more about James Haskell and Introduction to Becoming and Remaining RugbyFit go to: www.jameshaskell.com.