Former Wales forward Andrew Coombs diagnosed with dementia at 39

<span>Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

The former Wales forward Andrew Coombs has said he has been diagnosed with dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the age of 39.

Coombs is one of the 295 retired rugby union players who have brought a legal claim against three of the sport’s governing bodies alleging they sustained brain injuries during their careers. The former Newport back-row, who won the Six Nations in 2013, issued a lengthy statement on social media.

“I’m writing to share some personal news that has deeply impacted my life and the lives of my loved ones,” he wrote on X. “Eight months ago, I was diagnosed with dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy after suffering symptoms for around four years.

Related: Rugby v Its Players: shadow of brain injury case looms over the sport

“This first came to my attention whilst featuring on a live episode of Scrum V Sunday, where discussions around CTE symptoms resonated with me deeply. It was a challenging decision to seek medical advice. However, understanding the changes happening within me became imperative. The diagnosis was a heartbreaking one but it answered many questions that had been lingering in my mind and worrying me for so long.”

The former England captain Phil Vickery and the former Wales fly-half Gavin Henson were revealed to be part of the legal case on Friday after waiving their anonymity in the claims against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Lawyers for the players have alleged the governing bodies failed to take reasonable steps to protect players from injury caused by repetitive blows and that many have permanent neurological injuries, including early onset dementia, Parkinson’s disease and CTE.

All 295 players are seeking damages as they argue the governing bodies were negligent and failed in their duty of care by not putting in place any reasonable measures to protect their health and safety. That claim is rejected by all three governing bodies, who in turn have criticised the players’ solicitors for withholding medical records and delaying the case.

Coombs wrote in his statement: “I do question those who were responsible for managing the health risks associated with repetitive head collisions and concussions. Some may not understand my decision to join the legal action and that’s OK. Unfortunately I am currently unable to share my personal experiences that led to this decision, which might have provided more clarity.

“Whilst I am devastated by my diagnosis, my spirit remains strong and, in a strange way, the diagnosis has brought relief and clarity, as it has provided answers to many of my questions.

“I’m trying to be myself as much as possible, enjoying life to the fullest, not allowing my condition to destroy my mental health.”

A statement from World Rugby, the RFU and WRU said: “Rugby is committed to leading the welfare agenda in sport, driven by evolving science and research to protect and support players at all levels.”