Tackling should be banned in the teaching of rugby in British schools - that’s according to 70 doctors in a letter to UK Ministers last week. The group expressed concern over the physical risks and likelihood of injury to under 18s.
It was met with an outraged response from the rugby community, who spoke passionately in defence of their sport. ‘What’s rugby without tacking?’ they asked. Rugby is a character-building sport; it rewards determination, discipline, respect and courage, they claimed.
As a runner, I completely empathise with the oval-ball crowd. If the academics get their way with rugby, then which sport will they turn their fire onto then? Football, hockey, basketball? After all, there is risk in all physical sports. Of course there are risks in rugby. But there are also massive benefits.
Should we judge a sport based on the miniscule number of bad injuries? Or on the enormous number of people whom taking part has enriched their lives and made them into the people they are today?
Running is no walk in the park. It is a load-bearing exercise where nearly every participant will suffer injury at some point. Should doctors recommend we ban running? Of course not. But if rugby is forced to compromise on its physicality, won’t other sports where injury is a possibility also be more vulnerable?
I have many friends in rugby who say the sport has been so important in their lives, not only helping them build the type of character traits we all value but has helped them form lifetime friendships. A major part of that bond is because of the physical challenge of the sport. I get that, because that’s exactly why running has been so important in my life.
It has made me a better person, a stronger, more rounded person. Not because of any medals, PBs or goodie bags. It’s the suffering and overcoming that adversity that has done it. The cold nights training, the steep hill halfway through a race and yes, the injuries too. That’s what my fellow runners and I bond over.
Of course, let’s not encourage danger in sport, but let’s not eliminate all risks either for our young people. To do that would be the biggest risk of all, if we want young people to possess the type of characteristics our society values so highly.