Rugby's dementia crisis – podcast

The 2003 World Cup final between England and Australia had gone into the last minute of extra time, with scores tied. Steve Thompson, the England hooker, threw the ball in from a line out and, as England advanced, the ball ended with Jonny Wilkinson, whose drop goal dramatically won the match for England. It’s one of the most memorable moments in recent rugby history, but Thompson, now retired aged 42, doesn’t remember it.

The Guardian’s Andy Bull tells Rachel Humphreys about his investigation into rugby and dementia, during which he spoke to Thompson, one of several former players launching legal action against rugby union’s governing bodies. They claim that past failures to properly manage the safety of players who regularly received blows to the head has left some of them with debilitating conditions such as dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

If the players are successful in these test cases, the consequences for the sport could be transformational. And rugby is not alone: boxing, NFL and football are all reckoning with former stars who believe their careers in the sport have left them with lifelong medical conditions.

A spokesperson for World Rugby said: “While it would be inappropriate to comment on possible legal proceedings, everyone in World Rugby has utmost respect for the wellbeing of all our players, including former players.”

“Player welfare is our top priority and, along with our unions, we are unwavering in our commitment to evidence-based injury prevention strategies, in particular in the priority area of concussion education, management and prevention, and our approach is based on the latest available research, evidence and knowledge.”

Ireland v England. Steve Thompson (England) is collared by Paul O'Connell (5) as he runs at Ireland's Ronan O'Gara (10). Photo by Matt Impey/Rex/Shutterstock

Photograph: Matt Impey/REX/Shutterstock

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