LONDON (AP) — Eight former international rugby players, including World Cup-winning England hooker Steve Thompson, have teamed up to probe whether to pursue legal action against the sport's authorities for what they claim is negligence over brain injuries they sustained during their careers.
They claim World Rugby, the English Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union failed to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.
Former England player Michael Lipman and ex-Wales international Alix Popham are part of the test group of eight players, according to Rylands Law, which is representing them.
Richard Boardman, who is listed as an attorney for Rylands Law, said he is in contact with more than 100 players whose ages range from their 20s to their 50s, many of whom are showing symptoms of neurological problems.
“We are now in a position where we believe the governing bodies across the rugby world are liable for failing to adequately protect their players on this particular issue,” Boardman told the BBC.
The BBC reported on Tuesday that a claim of damages will be sent to the rugby governing bodies in the next week.
In 2013, the NFL settled lawsuits from thousands of former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems they say were caused by the very on-field violence that fueled the game’s rise to popularity and profit.
The settlement, expected to cost the NFL more than $1 billion, spared the league a trial over claims that it long hid what it knew about the link between concussions and brain injuries. The settlement fund is designed to cover more than 20,000 retirees suffering from brain disorders that include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
The settlement did not include an admission from the NFL that it hid information from players about head injuries.
World Rugby told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it "takes player safety very seriously and implements injury-prevention strategies based on the latest available knowledge, research and evidence.”
The organization, which would not comment on the players' claims, has made progress in recent years in developing concussion protocols to reduce the risks for players and is widely regarded as being ahead on the issue compared to sports like soccer and cricket.
World Rugby pointed out that there is a key difference to the legal action in the NFL in that hits to the head were never legal in rugby.
Thompson was diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in November.
He was a key member of England’s only Rugby World Cup triumph, in 2003, when he played in all of the team’s matches in the tournament. He said he has “no recollection of winning the World Cup in 2003, or of being in Australia for the tournament.”
“Knowing what I know now, I wish that I had never turned professional,” the 42-year-old Thompson, who played 73 games for England and three for the British and Irish Lions, said in quotes carried by Britain's Press Association.
He retired in 2007 because of a neck injury before returning to the game, only to retire again in 2011 with the same issue.
“It was not uncommon for me to be left dazed, seeing white spots and not knowing where I was for a few seconds, sometimes I would pass out completely,” he said. “It was just an accepted part and parcel of training.
“I really wished that I had ended my career earlier, maybe my diagnosis might not be so bleak.”
Popham, who is 41, was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, early onset dementia and probable CTE in April.
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