Player welfare campaigners have welcomed World Rugby’s decision to extend the minimum stand-down period for most concussed elite-level players to 12 days from 1 July but have also called it “long overdue” and said it is “not the perfect solution” to the game’s ongoing head injury-related issues.
Until now players have been allowed to return to play after seven days if they satisfy a series of graduated protocols. But from next month it will be forbidden for concussed individuals to play again the following weekend unless they have a satisfactory concussion history and have also received a specific all-clear by an independent specialist.
A spokesperson for Progressive Rugby, who has been lobbying World Rugby for 16 months to introduce a precautionary 28-day layoff for concussed players, said the move would help to enhance player welfare but stressed more could still be done. “Whilst long overdue and not the perfect solution, this is a positive step and will prevent most elite players from being exposed to extreme and unnecessary risk.
“It is also welcome acknowledgment for our members, who have long held grave concerns around this flawed protocol. However, while undoubtedly a victory for player welfare, the journey is not complete.”
World Rugby insists the sport has not been sluggish in its response and deny that external pressure has precipitated the shift. “It isn’t the case that we get the concussion working group together because there’s criticism or a movement to suggest the existing protocols weren’t fit for purpose,” said World Rugby’s chief executive, Alan Gilpin, making clear the governing body still does not support blanket stand-down periods in the professional game where players can now be individually tracked.
“Other sports have gone for blanket stand-down periods but we don’t believe that’s the right approach. History tells us that when there was a blanket stand-down in the professional game that drove underreporting [of symptoms] by players.”
Gilpin also suggested the total eradication of head impacts was “never a battle we’re probably going to win” but that player safety was improving. “I think we’re making progress. There are always going to be concussions in rugby, we’re never going to eradicate that because of the nature of the sport we have. But we want to win the battle enough so that people are comfortable we’ve got a game that’s safe to play at all levels and that the sport is doing its best to look after players’ welfare.”
World Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr Éanna Falvey, explained that only players who have not been concussed in the past three months or had sustained either fewer than three concussions in the previous 12 months or fewer than five concussions in their career would now stand any chance of being cleared to return after seven days.
“Our approach means it is now overwhelmingly likely a player diagnosed with a concussion won’t play in their team’s next match,” Falvey said. “[But] when a player is ready to return in seven days they can do. The idea that all concussions should be treated the same is not supported by this approach.”
The game’s leading match officials, meanwhile, are meeting in Dubai this week as the governing body seeks to encourage more consistency in the upcoming July Tests. Gilpin acknowledged that red and yellow cards had been shown recently for very similar head-height challenges but stressed the need for all players to tackle lower.
“There is a lot more briefing for us to do about trying to change player and coaching behavior around tackle height,” he said. “Diagnosis of concussion is really important but ultimately we want to reduce the number of head impacts and that is about changing behavior.”