The Roar
The Roar


IRB must care for the concussed

Waratahs Kurtley Beale lays on the field injured during their Super Rugby match against the Cheetahs at the SFS, Sydney, Saturday, March 19, 2011. The Cheetahs defeated the Waratahs 23-3. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Roar Guru
28th May, 2013

The recent concerns expressed over the practice of players being allowed to continue playing after concussions have brought light to an issue far too long overlooked, which will take more and more prominence in professional rugby.

As players become stronger and heavier, collisions larger both in training and matches, the risk to players of long-term mental and other problems issuing from multiple concussion, of the kind seen in gridiron, should now be more directly addressed.

A player should never play on if concussed. The match is not in any way worth risking his long-term health for and it’s not as if normal contests have the once in a lifetime importance of a World Cup knockout stage when a player might continue.

If a player gets a concussion, in any sane world they should be pulled immediately. What non-sporting doctor would ever recommend a player continuing this kind of activity with the risk of further concussion?

The doctors are paid by the franchises and so there is already a conflict of interest. Would they feel safe in their jobs if they took off every concussed player, or perhaps any?

So with this conflict of interest, the doctors can’t be relied upon to make the decision. So who should, the player?

Rugby players are highly impressionable young men participating in a sport where it is ‘macho’ to continue through any injury, and ‘cowardly’ not to, whatever the long-term consequences.

Players will do anything to look tough by staying on the field and are under such pressure in terms of their careers and peer expectation that they cannot be called upon to make the decision.


So who should make it, the coaches? Here we find the first guilty party. The coaches may be under pressure to get results and therefore keep players on, but they are responsible for the health of these young men and are in a position to take moral and responsible action and pull them off for their future health.

But they fail morally. They fail again and again. Young men are entrusted to their charge and instead of protecting them from the potentially serious long-term damage that can be suffered as a result of repeated concussions, they do not take the action and pull them off.

They say ‘it’s up to the doctor’, ‘it’s up to the player’, but really they know that neither of these two will do the right thing. Most Super Rugby coaches are guilty of this moral failure.

But then an even larger guilty party looms, and a familiar one: the IRB. Of course no one expects any kind of ethical leadership from this body, but they are the only ones who can actually enact a requirement that a player must be taken off after a concussion.

The coaches will not take players off. The doctors will not take players off. The players will not take themselves off.

But the players must come off, and so it is up to the IRB and no one else to make sure they do, as they are the only ones with the power to make it happen. Just as they should give such tremendous punishments for eye-gouging so as to stamp it out altogether.

But who are the IRB? Middle-aged men brought up with the idea of the ‘rite of passage’ whereby a young player becomes a man by overcoming pain and injury in a physically challenging sport.


In this they reflect much of the way older generations view rugby players, as they no longer take part in the sport itself and can view is safely from a distance. The whole notion of extreme, life-affecting injury is part of the spectacle which is considered the sport itself.

It may lead to players blinded from gouges and committing suicide from concussion-induced mental problems, but the risk of such woes is the essence of the rite.

And in this lies the moral cowardice. The lack of responsibility for the young men playing the code they administer, who do not consider it a violent rite of passage but a competitive sporting challenge.

They are the only ones who can look after the welfare of the players ultimately and they are the ones who continuously fail to do so.