Rugby’s support for concussion awareness campaign in Suffolk

This tackle at the International Sevens Tournament at the Haberden, Bury St Edmunds, shows what a hi

This tackle at the International Sevens Tournament at the Haberden, Bury St Edmunds, shows what a high-impact sport rugby can be. Picture by Andy Abbott - Credit: Archant

A Bury St Edmunds rugby coach has backed calls for those involved in contact sports – particularly at a grassroots level – to be more aware of the risks from head injuries.

Gavin Hogg

Gavin Hogg - Credit: Archant

Gavin Hogg, director of rugby at Bury St Edmunds RUFC, highlighted the importance of Headway Suffolk’s campaign Concussion Aware, which launched yesterday in conjunction with Action for Brain Injury Week, running until Sunday.

“From our point of view, it’s something that I support and we’ve been aware of,” said Mr Hogg. “The Rugby Football Union (RFU) have had a very big campaign over the last 12 months they called Headcase. It’s been orientated around making sure coaches and players are aware of the risk.”

He added: “The word is getting out there. We’re in a fortunate position in that we’ve got a very good medical support team and have access to the players four or five times a week.”

He said sometimes when players took a knock to the head they might feel fine at the time, but it was only a day or more later they began to feel the effects, something Bury’s coaches were able to pick up on.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton - Credit: Archant

However, he said for more grassroots teams the medical team might only see the players on matchday when they were already running onto the pitch.

“I think certainly that’s probably an area of the game that needs most attention and needs people to be slightly more aware of the impact it has,” he said.

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Headway is asking sport clubs to be “concussion aware” and take a responsible approach when sportsmen and women are knocked out or concussed.

“Sport plays a key role in keeping us fit and healthy,” said Helen Fairweather, chief executive of Headway Suffolk.

“At Headway, we want to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy sport, while being better protected from the risks of concussion.

“A great deal has been achieved in the past few years to improve concussion protocols, with the emphasis being placed on elite-level sport to set a good example for others to follow.

“But we believe everyone who plays sport should be concussion aware – particularly those at grassroots level who are playing purely for the love of it and do not have ambulances and doctors on standby should something go wrong.”

As part of the campaign, sports clubs and academic institutions have access to a range of materials, including a factsheet giving advice about concussion and posters to display both online and in changing rooms.

Headway Suffolk is inviting sports clubs to register interest in supporting the campaign or fundraising for the charity during Action for Brain Injury Week.

For further information on the campaign, visit www.concussionaware.org.uk

The school perspective

Earlier this year, more than 70 doctors and academics wrote an open letter to government ministers urging schools to ban contact rugby.

They said the “high-impact collision sport” could have lifelong consequences for children.

However, many argued at the time this was not necessary.

Headway Suffolk’s campaign is hoping to make sports clubs at all levels more aware of the risks involved with concussion.

Chief executive Helen Fairweather said: “We hope that through this campaign, we can encourage sports clubs, schools, colleges and universities in our region to ensure their members or pupils are aware of concussion and sign up to an ‘if in doubt, sit it out’ approach.”

King Edward VI School head teacher Geoff Barton said he supported the campaign and said it was important to raise awareness.

However, he warned children should not be wrapped in “cotton wool” and said contact sports should not be diminished.

“I think it’s definitely the right thing to do in terms of raising awareness,” he said of the campaign.

“We know that accidents can happen in sports. The awareness needs to be raised with students and teachers supervising so that the proper precautions can be taken.”

He added: “If you really want to prepare young people for the genuine world of sport and the world out there you can’t put them in cotton wool. It’s about proper risk assessment and teaching young people to take personal responsibility is eminently sensible.”

His views were echoed by Clive Bell, who is first team coach at Ipswich Rugby and also teaches at the Ipswich School.

He said it was a good thing there was now so much more awareness around concussion, thanks in part to the RFU’s Headcase campaign, but believed contact should still be allowed at all levels.

“As the long as the guys update on their courses and are able to teach properly it’s as safe as anything,” he said, adding people could get injured “in any sport”, but there were correct ways of doing things.

“As a coach, in my opinion, if somebody has knocked their head they’re off the pitch as far as I’m concerned until someone, who is qualified enough, can give the all-clear they’re OK.

“I don’t see the point in risking it because it can be so dangerous. At the school level we have on site paramedics that we pay for. At the club with my seniors I’m first-aid trained.”

He said if people did not have the correct training in any sport they could be unsafe, but said if children were taught good habits from a young age and the coaches were also updated with the latest courses then that would ensure it was as safe as could be.

“I’ve had to reassure a lot of parents at school,” he said. “Don’t let it put you off, that’s the big thing I would say. Don’t get put off by it.

“The stuff I’ve learned in the game and the friendships I’ve built outweigh any risks as far as I’m concerned. If the clubs are abiding and doing the Headcase courses the RFU put on it’s a great game to be involved in.”