World Rugby unveils six-point plan to cement ambition to be the most progressive sport on player welfare

A dedicated focus on welfare for former players, women and the community game are at the heart of a new six-point plan to advance player welfare in rugby, announced by World Rugby and national unions today.

Central to the evolved plan is a commitment to wide-ranging engagement with the rugby family across key welfare matters. It will include initiatives across the life cycle of a player – future, current and former players. It will recognise the differences in game shape and injury risk between the elite and community game and aim to reduce injuries at all levels of the game.

Developed by the game for the game, the plan builds on strong foundations by World Rugby and unions to advance welfare for current players in the professional and community game, players in the women’s game, and former players with a science and engagement-led approach to player welfare and understanding the impact of head injuries in the sport. Initiatives within the plan will be informed by both robust scientific evidence, and input and consultation across the game – including players, former players, fans, clubs, unions and regions.

Writing of the plan in an open letter to the rugby family, World Rugby Chairman and former British and Irish Lions and England captain, Sir Bill Beaumont said: “I am clear that continuing to put player welfare front and centre is critical if we are to grow our sport. The welfare of our players has always been our number one priority, and the plan we are releasing today underlines that commitment.

“It is a plan by the game, for the game, and will have consultation at its heart. We want to build on recent constructive conversations with current and former players, fans and organisations, to make sure we hear from everyone on how to secure the future of the game we all love.”

World Rugby’s action plan is based around six principal commitments:

1. A focus on former players: advancing best practice in care, information, education and support for former players struggling or concerned about their health.

2. Innovation led by science and research: doubling investment in player welfare, including working with a wide range of scientific institutions to continue to research and advance our understanding of the impact of head injury. World Rugby will continue to bring together a variety of scientific perspectives on concussion in sport to learn from each development in the science and focusing investment into concussion and head impact in rugby studies in particular. This means further targeted investment in research and technology to improve player safety and optimise Head Injury Assessments and the application of the Graduated Return to Play protocols.

3. Continue to review and evolve the Laws of the game to safeguard players: the two initiatives announced today – global law trials and the introduction of Independent Concussion Consultants – are the first of a series of actions planned in this area. This includes a dedicated focus on a more flexible approach at community level as well as a global forum on the game later this year, and acting on the outcomes of the ground-breaking study by the University of Otago in New Zealand to make any required adjustments at the community and under-age levels. The following working groups will continue to monitor their respective specialist areas: Head Contact Process, Breakdown, TMO, Scrum and Community law.

4. A dedicated focus on the women’s game: recognising both the growth potential and unique nature of women’s rugby. Measures will include dedicated research investment across community and elite women’s rugby and women’s game specific law reviews.

5. Continued investment in education: World Rugby will strengthen the provision of information, tools and resources to everyone involved in the game when it comes to head impacts and player welfare. This will include a new Recognise and Remove head injury education programme and App, a best-practice safe tackle technique programme for the whole game, and rollout of the Activate injury prevention warm-up programme with proven concussion and injury prevention benefits across all unions and regions.

6. Open engagement with the rugby family: In partnership with unions, World Rugby will consult widely and deeply across the community and professional game, for men’s and women’s rugby. Where this means embracing non-traditional channels and platforms to reach rugby fans and players, we will do so.

World Rugby has announced two initiatives that will specifically deliver against the plan, both debuting over the next month – a package of welfare-driven law trials that will be operational globally from 1 August, most notably including a 50:22 rule on kicking into touch in the opposition’s 22 with the result that the attacking team would secure a lineout.

The second is confirmation that the international federation will fund a programme of Independent Concussion Consultants, not affiliated to either of the two teams playing, who will assess the suitability of a player’s return to play should they progress through the sport’s Graduated Return to Play protocol within 10 days. A number of major announcements across each of the six pillars will follow in the coming months.

The six-point plan welfare advancement action plan including detailed actions

1. Post-career care for former players

  • Players do not leave the rugby family when they hang up their boots. Working with independent experts and player bodies, we will promote initiatives to support former players concerned about their health.
  • We are partnering with International Rugby Players on a range of initiatives and programmes that support players as they transition out from their playing careers, ranging from mental wellbeing, training and education to consultation on the future of the sport.
  • We will partner with independent healthcare experts, unions and player associations on dedicated brain health wellbeing.
  • We welcome the voice of former players and will engage with them on future welfare developments
  • We will continue to expand our Executive Leadership Scholarship programme for women in rugby, including former players, who are looking to develop careers in governance, coaching, officiating and administration in the sport.

2. Head impact prevention, technology innovation and research

  • We are making available to the elite game a global panel of Independent Concussion Consultants who will review any player who is on track to return to play within 10 days. They will also be called upon for players returning to play having completed the protocols who are deemed at higher risk owing to their concussion and medical history.
  • Reflecting the ongoing commitment to continually review and advance the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) Process, we will continue to examine the latest eye-tracking technology as an objective tool to support medics in the identification of concussion.
  • We will extend the study of the Neuroflex virtual reality technology in elite competitions in 2021-22 following encouraging initial pilot in Super Rugby Trans Tasman
  • We will operate a parallel assessment of the EyeGuide technology in an elite competition in 2021-22
  • With the ambition of delivering the most comprehensive welfare standards ever operational at an international rugby event, we will implement the premium tournament welfare standards at Rugby World Cup 2021 (played in 2022), including the Head Injury Assessment Process, video review and Independent Concussion Consultants, with Rugby World Cup 2023 following the model.
  • To evaluate the number and nature of head impacts in adult and age grade community rugby, a ground-breaking research programme is being undertaken by the University of Otago in New Zealand and Prevent Biometrics.
  • More than 700 male and female players, the biggest study of its kind, have been fitted with instrumented mouthguards fitted with accelerometers that, in real-time, collect and wirelessly transmits count, load, location, direction, linear and rotational motion every time there is a collision.
  • The data gathered under control conditions at the University of Otago, combined with time-coded video analysis, will provide the largest bank of comparable data ever undertaken in any sport worldwide
  • The peer-reviewed research will inform evidence-based moves we will make to educate the rugby family and drive targeted head impact reduction initiatives
  • Supporting the mission of reducing head impacts in the sport, World Rugby in partnership with unions, will launch the Tackle Ready best-practice tackle preparation programme, which aims to promote the safest technique.
  • World Rugby will continue to strive for consistent application of the Head Contact Process across the game. Launched earlier this year, the programme aims to reduce the number of head impacts in the sport by providing a sanctioning framework for all types of head contact in the sport, aiming to drive positive player behaviour change.
  • World Rugby will launch the global pilot of the HCP coaching intervention to encourage players to focus on safe technique by trading a week of their sanction for foul play involving the head for a technique evaluation by an independent panel of experts

3. Welfare-driven law review

  • We will implement the welfare-driven global law trials from 1 August and evaluate the data
  • Welfare will be the primary driver of law review across the next cycle
  • We will conduct a review of contact training load across the game in partnership with International Rugby Players to inform potential welfare advancements
  • We will further explore community law variations within the law review process

4. Dedicated focus on the women’s game

  • Women’s rugby is growing globally at a rapid pace and in line with the transformational 2017-25 World Rugby Women in Rugby strategy, we recognise that women’s rugby can and should follow its own path, and not just copy what is done in the men’s game.
  • We will have a dedicated focus on the women’s game embedded within the laws review process to ensure the game is all it can be for women and girls
  • We will advance and act upon dedicated injury surveillance within the women’s game to reduce the risk of injury
  • We will act upon the outcomes of the Otago University Head Impact study and work undertaken by the University of Swansea to implement women specific injury prevention programmes
  • We will increase our research investment in the women’s game in addition to annual injury surveillance
  • We will implement the HIA process at women’s Rugby World Cup and explore feasibility of technology trials to aid the identification, prevention and management of concussion

5. Continued investment in game-wide impactful education programmes

  • We will extend our game-wide concussion education programme
  • We will launch the Tackle Ready best-practice tackle technique programme across the game
  • We will drive global adoption of the Activate injury-prevention programme
  • We will implement our Tackle Ready programme to support positive behaviour change and support the Head Contact Process technique intervention programme

6. Ongoing engagement and collaboration with the rugby family

  • We know that everyone in the rugby family cares about the future of the sport, and so we will involve the family in shaping that future
  • We will consult widely and deeply to inform our actions, and ensure that everyone has a voice
  • We will embrace non-traditional channels and platforms to make sure that we reach as many rugby fans and players as possible

 

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