(Reuters) - World Rugby said it will partner with independent healthcare experts, unions and player associations to offer brain health care to former players as part of its new six-point welfare plan.
Head injuries, concussions and their potential long-term health impact have been in the spotlight in rugby since former players filed a class-action lawsuit against governing bodies including World Rugby alleging a failure to minimise the risks.
Many former players have been diagnosed with permanent brain damage, early-onset dementia, depression, or symptoms and signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
In an open letter accompanying the plan's launch, World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said "continuing to put player welfare front and centre is critical if we are to grow our sport.
"Like all sports, rugby is not a game that is risk-free. But it is a sport that cares deeply for and prioritises its players, in particular around concussion and head injury."
The plan includes head impact prevention, welfare-driven law review, dedicated focus on the women's game, continued investment in education programmes and open engagement with people within the game.
The sport's global governing body also said it would introduce a global panel of independent concussion consultants in elite rugby to provide expert opinion on whether players should return to play after a brain injury.
World Rugby also said a series of welfare-based law trials would be adopted globally on Aug. 1, including a "50/22" rule where a team will get the throw-in at a lineout if they kick from within their own half and the ball bounces inside their opponents' 22 before going into touch.
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)