The figures are alarming. According to a study by a team from the University of Glasgow, in October 2022, former rugby players are two and a half times more likely than the general population to develop neurodegenerative diseases. The researchers looked at 412 former Scottish rugby internationals before comparing them to 1,200 people from the general population. They reveal, for example, that the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease is three times higher.
In recent decades, professional rugby has shifted towards a more physical and faster game. Players have gained muscle mass, making shocks particularly violent, and concussions more frequent. But until a few years ago, few people took into account the severity and duration of symptoms. “There has always been this tradition, like in war: if you haven’t had your face torn off by a shell, it’s because you’re fit for combat. Looking more closely, we realize that it is still much more complex »analyzes Jean-François Chermann, neurologist, specialist in France for concussions in athletes.
According to this amateur player, rugby is not dangerous, but should be practiced with caution. This requires medical supervision, at all levels, which he helped to put in place. “We voted for the HIA criteria in 2013”, he recalls. These evaluation criteria following a head injury, dubbed “concussion protocol” in France, were developed to “Improve the management of head injuries”especially in cases where “the diagnosis is not immediately apparent”, says World Rugby. In addition to this medical framework, there is a framework for the rules. “There has been a total reform on the entry into the scrum, or on the way of making the keys, for example”, reminds the specialist.
Finally, the doctor notes a precious change in mentalities. “At the time, we had a real underestimation of the troubles, the players did not want to hear about it and participated in this omerta. »
The amateur world must progress
Since then, many cases of players having attacked their clubs in court for negligence have contributed to this increased vigilance by sports authorities. Last case to date, the rugby player Alexandre Lapandry, who suffers from the after-effects of a stroke following shocks. In December 2022, he filed several complaints against ASM Clermont-Auvergne, in particular for endangering the lives of others.
The evolutions of professional rugby must now spread to the amateur world. Today, 50% of concussed athletes, all sports combined, remain on the playing area. In rugby, since the HIA protocols, this figure has fallen from 50% to 18%. Other initiatives are emerging: the neurosurgeon David Brauge has established a protocol, after a concussion, intended for all general practitioners. The idea is to rely on this local network of caregivers accessible to all amateurs in the country.