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RUGBY IN THE DOCK: Brain-damaged former stars launch lawsuit against RFU and World Rugby

Rugby in the dock: Former brain-damaged stars file lawsuit against RFU and World Rugby amid claims of negligence and inability to protect players while targeting MILLIONS in compensation

  • A massive lawsuit will be filed against the leading governing bodies on Monday
  • 185 former brain-damaged players implicated in multi-million-pound claim
  • It will be the largest legal action of its kind outside the United States

Rugby Union’s day of reckoning has arrived as a massive lawsuit was launched Monday against three leading governing bodies on behalf of 185 former players with brain damage.

The multimillion-pound claim is being made against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union. It is the largest legal action of its kind outside the United States.

The group consists of English hooker Steve Thompson, former Wales captain, New Zealander Carl Hayman, England’s Michael Lipman and Alix Popham from Wales.

The group of players includes World Cup winning English hooker Steve Thompson

The group of players includes World Cup winning English hooker Steve Thompson

Their damning allegations include that the sport’s authorities have failed to:

  • Use expert medical advice about the risks of permanent brain damage and inform, educate and warn players.
  • Ensure players undergo regular medical examinations for signs of brain damage.
  • Investigate the effects of collisions on the brain.
  • Reduce the amount of contact during training and the number of matches.
  • Instead of shortening it, protect or extend the mandatory 21-day stand-down period after a concussion.
  • Act in the knowledge that concussions often delayed presentation and that the five or ten minute assessments during a match were totally inadequate.
  • Implement rules to limit the number of substitutions of uninjured players and reduce the risk of serious collisions for players.
Former Wales captain Ryan Jones is also involved in the lawsuit against the governing bodies

Former Wales captain Ryan Jones is also involved in the lawsuit against the governing bodies

These proceedings have been anticipated for some time and threaten to inflict major losses on a sport that is still reeling from the financial turmoil caused by the Covid pandemic. A groundbreaking class action in American football ordered the NFL to pay out $1 billion to victims of head trauma.

Rugby is unlikely to face charges of that magnitude, but the damages would be significant if the plaintiffs manage to argue that the game’s authorities have been negligent in taking adequate steps to protect the players.

Those involved in the class action — in their 30s, 40s and 50s — suffer from “irreversible neurological disorders” such as probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), incipient dementia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and motor neuron disease.

The group is represented by Rylands Law who also represents 75 rugby league players in a potential claim against the Rugby Football League. The company stressed that the claim is not just about compensation, but also about making rugby safer.

Richard Boardman, who represents Rylands in this case, told Sportsmail last week that thousands of ex-professionals could potentially still be diagnosed with a brain disease.

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Boardman said. “The vast majority of the former players we represent love rugby and don’t want it to be harmed in any way. They just want to make it safer so that current and future generations don’t end up like them.”

Carl Hayman from New Zealand is one of 185 former players involved with brain damage

Carl Hayman from New Zealand is one of 185 former players involved with brain damage

Jones revealed in an emotional recent interview with the Sunday Times that he has been diagnosed with dementia and likely CTE. Exposing his fears for the future, the former Lions No 8 said: ‘Rugby runs headlong with his eyes closed in a catastrophic situation.’

The plaintiffs make a series of allegations about the governing bodies’ historical shortcomings, such as a “disregard for player safety and brain health.” They argue that there was insufficient education about the risk of head trauma and a lack of effective monitoring and adequate mandatory rest periods after head injury.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday earlier this month, former Bath and England winger Lipman – now living in Australia where he grew up – highlighted the way players could hide signs of concussion. “Everyone cheated on those tests,” said the 42-year-old, who has struggled to cope with the impact of dementia and likely CTE. “You had to touch a button when a card was turned over. It was the most laughable test in the world.

“In my last season I was carried away five times. There was a game against the All Blacks at Twickenham where in the first 10 minutes I got a massive blow and had a blurry, blurry horizontal line in my view that wouldn’t go away. I played until about 70 minutes. I should have left, but I didn’t.’

CTE is a degenerative brain disease found in former NFL players and is suspected to be a condition faced by several ex-rugby players. Symptoms include chronic depression, aggression, significant memory loss, incontinence, and drug and alcohol addiction.

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Lipman turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism after his diagnosis and ended up in rehab last summer. “It’s terrifying me,” he said. “I drank because I didn’t want to hang out with myself. I probably drank two bottles of wine and a few beers, four nights a week.

‘I drank for the drink. I hated myself. Two days before I went to the clinic, I collapsed. I was hanging my children’s laundry on the line and I collapsed, on the back deck of our house, crying in a fetal position. A 42-year-old adult male. It hurts.’

World Rugby released a statement on Sunday stating: ‘As of Sunday afternoon, no legal claim has been made to World Rugby. It would be inappropriate to comment until we have received the formal details of the action being taken.”

The RFU also awaited formal contact from Rylands before considering a response.

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