Ed Slater: Growing calls on government to research rugby’s relationship with Motor Neurone Disease

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

There have been calls for greater research into rugby’s relationship with Motor Neurone Disease after the Gloucester lock Ed Slater was forced to retire from the game at just 33 following his diagnosis.

Gloucester announced on Thursday that father-of-three Slater, who represented England Saxons and made the full national squad, was retiring from the game with immediate effect after six months of testing confirmed his diagnosis last week.

He is the latest player across rugby’s two codes to be diagnosed with the disease.

Former Scotland lock Doddie Weir, 52, admitted this month he was “flabbergasted” to still be alive six years after his diagnosis, while former Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain rugby league star Rob Burrow, 39, said this week that the government has “blood on its hands” for delaying £50m funding to attempt to find a cure.

The World Cup-winning South African scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen died in 2017 aged just 45 from the disease.

A JustGiving page was set up yesterday to support Slater and his family, and this morning it had almost doubled its £20,000 target, with support from more than 1,000 individuals.

Weir and Burrow are both prolific fundraisers for MND research. Weir’s My Name’5 Doddie Foundation released a statement calling for further research.

“My Name’5 Doddie Foundation recognises the increased attention surrounding potential links between head injury and neurological disease, but there is currently not enough definitive research on which to draw conclusions about potential links with motor neurone disease,” said a statement.

“Whilst the evidence around a link between head trauma and dementia seems to be gaining momentum, the same cannot be implied for MND; these diseases have different causes and underlying factors.

“MND is a complex disease and, although we now have a much greater understanding of the genetics involved, the link between genes, environmental and lifestyle factors is not well understood. Further research is critical to unravelling these details.”

The news of Slater’s diagnosis comes at a time when a series of former players – with former Wales captain Ryan Jones the latest – are also revealing their diagnoses with CTE, a degenerative brain disease.

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