British scientists and doctors have renewed calls for rugby tackling in schools to be banned.
Researchers from the Sport Collision Injury Collective say youngsters are risking serious injury from the game – which is often made compulsory and overseen by PE teachers with little or no specialist training.
They say tackling is responsible for nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of all injuries and 87 per cent of concussions.
A panel of experts discussed the issue at the British Science Festival in Swansea on Thursday.
Speaking ahead of the event, researcher Adam White – who is studying for a PhD at Winchester University – said schoolchildren could still feel the benefits of the sport without having to tackle one another.
“Concussion injuries are particularly high in rugby, but the problem is that reporting is often low because it’s an invisible injury,” said White, who used to play as a prop for Torquay Rugby Club.
“This is particularly problematic in children because the effects of concussion last longer and their brains are far more vulnerable.
“We already protect children from injury in other ways – when they are travelling in cars or preventing them from drinking alcohol.
“Sport should be exactly the same.”
Tens of thousands of youngsters play rugby in schools across the UK – and according to the Sport Collision Injury Collective the game is “compulsory” in almost three quarters of schools in England.
However, despite growing reports, and some high-profile cases of children being injured on the rugby field, experts say there is a lack of medical data.
“The trouble is that we are still putting people’s lives at risk while we collect those figures,” White said.
“Logically, if we don’t understand the risk then we should be avoiding it.
“Let’s put this in work context, you would not be forced to do something that was not essential and placed you at risk.
“With sport, there tends to be a backwards approach – which has sadly proved tragic in some well-documented cases.
“We are calling for the tackle to be removed from school’s rugby only and the reason for that is because most PE teachers are not trained in rugby and also the compulsory nature of it.
White said he was confident that removing the tackle in school rugby would not make the sport less fun – and could actually make the sport more inclusive.