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It is our duty to protect young players, but benefits of sport outweigh the risks, according to leading Sports Doctor

As England faces its early departure from the 2015 Rugby World Cup on home soil, we reflect on the positives the campaign could deliver for younger sportsmen at grassroots level.

Club Doctor for England Under-16 Rugby, Dr Ademola Adejuwon, has said that it is easier to protect younger players than adult professionals in sport, but it is our duty to do so by taking responsibility for the decision and making the right one.

Speaking at a Concussion In Sport Today (CIST) seminar, hosted earlier this year by personal injury specialists, Minster Law, Dr Adejuwon was positive about the changes that he had witnessed in rugby over the past 18 seasons. However, he warned that it is not possible to prevent concussion and it is still a subject that we are learning about – there is no definitive right answer.

He said: “For adult professionals, this is their career and their livelihood, so making decisions with them post-concussion tends to be more complicated, but with a child – even if they’re 6’3” and 16 years old – they are still legally a minor, so the decision rests with you as the Doctor, with the focus on keeping them safe.”

The introduction of new rules ahead of the Rugby World Cup, meaning that Doctors now have a similar level of responsibility for adults returning to play potentially brings the two more in line with each other.

One of the main concerns arising from the Minster Law CIST event, hosted at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health in London, was ensuring that the greater awareness at professional level is successfully cascaded in to grassroots level rugby and other sports. The belief of attendees from legal, medical and sporting professions was that in doing so, we would protect young players now and secure safer sports in the future by educating the stars of the future.

Dr Adejuwon, also Club Doctor for Saracens since 2007, went on to say that “the social skills, discipline and physical benefits of sport far outweigh the risks. While we cannot prevent concussion completely, we can minimise risks and that has to be the focus. Unfortunately, there is no quick answer; we are not aware at the moment of any helmet or headwear that can stop concussion from happening, but we can make all players and support staff aware of symptoms.”

He also suggested that coaches have a role to play in identifying reasons for players suffering multiple concussions. The Doctor outlined the biggest cause of concussions in rugby as tackling, followed by being tackled and the ruck. “Coaches have a responsibility to identify if a player who suffers multiple concussions has a poor tackling technique and address it,” he said. “Other key elements to address in reducing head trauma are player behaviour, zero tolerance of foul play and the conditions at playing and training grounds.”

Despite that, if concussion is ultimately not preventable all of the time, it’s hugely important to continue to remind players and doctors of the symptoms to ensure that they recognise them.

One of the Minster Law solicitors instrumental in pulling together the Concussion In Sport Today campaign, Rachel Di Clemente, said: “As the mother of a teenager playing Hooker for his team, this subject is something that I am very passionate about. I’ve been reassured to see the increased focus on concussion in recent months and hope that the current Rugby World Cup and associated increased levels of awareness will have a positive impact on young players and the people who support the game at grassroots level. The amateur coaches and teaching staff that we met at our events were passionate to find ways to convey these messages to the children in their care.”

In the past five years alone, Minster Law has dealt with more than 580 claims involving concussion, many of which have been the result of a sporting incident. Brain injury remains one of the company’s specialist areas, and as well as having access to some of the best medical experts in the field, Minster Law is a proactive and passionate campaigner for greater awareness of all types of brain injuries.

Dr Adejuwon would like everyone involved in rugby to download, read and be familiar with the Pocket Concussion Recognition Tool, particularly at grassroots level where professional medical support is usually less readily available.