Players’ legal claim against RFL has 53 allegations

James Gordon
Super League balls IMG Rugby Football League

A claim that the RFL failed to protect players from head injuries could reach into the tens of millions, according to reports.

A Letter of Claim on behalf of a group of more than 75 former players will be served to the governing body this week.

The anticipated legal battle has been hanging over the sport in recent years, so much so that it has caused the RFL’s insurance to increase four-fold.

Changes to concussion protocol and the controversial disciplinary process have also been attributed to the ongoing litigation fears.

The legal action

Rylands Legal say the the RFL were negligent in failing to take reasonable action to protect players from permanent brain injury caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows.

They say a number of former players now suffer from various irreversible neurological impairments, including dementia, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), post-concussion syndrome, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and motor neurone disease.

Richard Boardman of Rylands Legal said: “We are seeing the same worrying symptoms in numerous cases across both codes of rugby. These symptoms include chronic depression, aggression, significant memory loss, incontinence, drug and alcohol addiction, and, in some cases, suicide attempts. 

This claim isn’t just about financial compensation; it is also about making the game safer and ensuring current and former players get tested so that if they are suffering a brain injury, they can get the clinical help they need. The players we represent love the game.

“We aim to challenge the current perceptions of the governing bodies, to reach a point where they accept the connection between repetitive blows to the head and permanent neurological injury and to take steps to protect players and support those who are injured.”

Former Great Britain international Bobbie Goulding is the highest profile player involved in the claim.

What is the basis of the ex-players’ claim

The 53 allegations raised by the Claimants include the failure by the Defendant to:

  • Allow, sanction, tolerate, and oversee rugby matches that proceeded without any or any proper or appropriate regard for the safety of players as regards head contacts.
  • Ensure that a properly qualified individual was in charge of the treatment of head injuries within the sport and the systems, protocols and enforcement that related to the same.
  • Improperly, negligently, and unquestioningly rely on the advice of Paul McCrory, who has since been found guilty of multiple counts of plagiarism and gave an undertaking in 2018 to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency not to perform neurodiagnostic procedures.
  • Respond to changes in the intensity and physicality of the game of rugby league over the course of the 1980s and 90s through the adaptation of rules, protocols, guidance, officiating or at all.
  • Allow young players from the age of 16 to play professional or semi-professional rugby league with adults in circumstances where they were not fully developed.
  • Introduce independent concussion spotters in a timely fashion.
  • Institute independent pitch-side medics leading to over-reliance on club medics who are heavily conflicted.
  • Be negligently inactive in relation to head and neck injuries, concussions, sub-concussions and long-term neurological harm arising in or from the sport it governed.

RFL response

An RFL spokesperson said: “The RFL takes player safety and welfare extremely seriously, and it has been desperately sad to hear of any players’ difficulties. Player welfare is always of paramount importance.

“As a result of scientific knowledge, the sport of Rugby League continues to improve and develop its approach to concussion, head injury assessment, education, management and prevention across the whole game. We will continue to use medical evidence and research to reinforce and enhance our approach.”

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