MPs to consider evidence between head trauma in sport and dementia

Paul MacInnes
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA</span>
Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

MPs are to launch an inquiry into concussion in sport as scrutiny grows over the links between head trauma and neurodegenerative disease.

The digital, culture, media and sport committee will “consider scientific evidence for links between head trauma and dementia and how risks could be mitigated” over two remote sessions, the first of which will take place on 9 March. The news follows reporting by the Guardian that revealed the extent of dementia among former rugby union players.

Related: Rugby needs to follow AFL path in confronting problem of concussion | Andy Bull

In an interview with the Guardian, the former England hooker Steve Thompson revealed he had early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the age of 42. He recalled experiencing repetitive concussions when training as a professional in the early noughties.

“In the old days it was a bit of a laugh. If someone got whacked in the head, it was: ‘Oh, look at him, he’s had a belt. He’ll be up in a minute,’” he said. “You think how many specialists were out there watching that and not saying anything. They knew what was happening. And nothing was done about it.”

Thompson has called for rugby union to be regulated in order to protect players better from concussion. In response, World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU released a statement in December. “We have been deeply saddened to hear the brave personal accounts from former players. Rugby is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, rugby takes player welfare extremely seriously and it continues to be our number one priority. As a result of scientific knowledge improving, rugby has developed its approach to concussion surveillance, education, management and prevention across the whole game.”

Other sports are introducing new rules to deal with head injuries. In football, the Premier League and Football Association have introduced permanent concussion substitutes, allowing injured players to be removed from play without the opposing team gaining an advantage.

The FA, alongside the Professional Footballers’ Association, is funding the FIELD study, which is examining links between professional football and dementia. There have been calls from across the sporting world for more research to be undertaken, however, so as to better understand the risks athletes are undertaking.

Related: AFL players' union to consider multimillion-dollar concussion trust proposal

Last month, the government hosted two “virtual summits” that brought together a number of high-profile figures from within sport and heads of governing bodies to share experience and best practice.

After the second summit, the Sports Minister, Nigel Huddleston, said: “Encouraging progress is being made in our understanding of head injuries in sports with the significant research that is underway.

“With the clear commitment to work together shown by all governing bodies and health professionals, I am confident we will make swift progress in improving the welfare of our present and future sports stars.”

The DCMS committee inquiry will run parallel to the government’s interventions.