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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Victoria White: Rugby is getting dangerous...so is it time for our kids to hang up their boots?

Jonathan Sexton
Jonathan Sexton
Jonathan Sexton

What are my boys learning Saturday after Saturday as the sitting-room goes into lock-down for the Six Nations?

To fight until they draw blood? To ignore their pain and fight on?

They roared when Johnny Sexton came back into the field with his mashed-up face last Saturday.

That was the moment which has led some to wonder was this a sports event at all?

Or was it a gladiatorial fight in which Sexton and Mathieu Bastareaud were "blood sacrifices"?

I've always taught my boys not to fight. To turn and walk away.

There's a raft of schools guidance counsellors and media psychologists teaching them the same thing.

wars

Then they turn on the telly and hear the whole world roaring when a player runs back onto the pitch with his face rearranged.

A player who was put out of the game by a blow to the head and is back playing 15 minutes later. And has just returned from 12 weeks out of the game due to concussion.

Let's not have any pretences here. Boys need wars.

But I thought we were civilised enough nowadays to invent wars in which no-one gets badly hurt and absolutely no-one gets killed.

They're called ball games. The rules are meant to keep the players safe from being killed.

But the big question with rugby is whether the rules do their job?

Based on Saturday's game you'd have to say they don't.

The definition of a "high tackle" should mean a tackle above the legs or waist. Any higher and you're risking a head injury which can cause concussion.

"Concussion can be fatal. I have the death certificate to prove it", as tragic Dad Peter Robinson said on RTE last year, after his 14-year-old son Benjamin lost his life to Second Impact Syndrome.

When I heard his mother Karen being interviewed on radio and describing standing on the sidelines as the son she called "baby bear" was destroyed before her eyes, I knew I could have been her.

The focus was all on why Benjamin was let play on after he became concussed.

But as Karen reminded us: "Concussion is a brain injury." You only have to be concussed once to be killed or maimed.

It seems that as we get more professional about looking after our boys' welfare we get more blind to the escalating violence in rugby.

The sport is getting more violent, in part, because today's young players are so well looked-after and so knowlegable about their conditioning and prepartion.

They have the money and the know-how to eat the right food, take the right supplements and pump the right weights so that they look like small versions of their older rugby heroes.

It's not a game anymore, even at schools level. It's a profession. A profession in which the danger is part of the glory.

maimed

That's the part of this that really scares me. The suspicion that it is the very threat of being maimed or even killed which makes this game attractive to young boys.

They're made of the same stuff as the teenage boys who volunteered to get blown up on Flanders' fields a century ago. Even today teenage boys volunteer for bloody wars all over the world.

Self-preservation isn't something they understand. That's why you can't get car insurance for them at a decent price.

Teenage boys are dangerous, most of all to themselves. That's why it's up to us, their parents and teachers, to keep them safe.

Should we start by hanging up their rugby boots until the rules of the game change?

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