The governing bodies of rugby may have to pay millions of pounds to provide care for former players diagnosed with brain injuries.
More than 200 former rugby players have accused the sport’s governing bodies of inadequately protecting them from brain injuries. Legal experts predict that the claims against these organizations could surpass £300m.
While World Rugby, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) have stated their continuous efforts to prioritize player safety, a class action suit has been filed against all three governing bodies.
The lawsuit involves former players such as Ryan Jones, former British and Irish Lions and Wales captain, Steve Thompson, an England international and World Cup winner, and Alix Popham, a former Wales international. Mr. Jones, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia, disclosed his participation in the legal action last year.
The potential financial implications could be significant, especially if extended care is necessary, according to experts.
Nevertheless, legal proceedings could be complex and lengthy, and it may take years to reach a resolution.
Crispin Cormack, who achieved both the league and cup victories with Pontypridd in the 1990s, went on to play for London Welsh and was a part of Wales’ tour to Australia.
Currently, he specializes in handling severe injury cases, including concussion, for Coles Miller Solicitors. Cormack anticipates that the claims against the rugby governing bodies could exceed hundreds of millions of pounds.
He said: “I would say a conservative estimate, personally, and I don’t know everything about the claims and I’ve obviously not been privy to the medical reports, but if we take the worst possible scenario, I’d say a minimum of £300m and it could be skyrocketing upwards.”
Jonathan Compton has provided counsel to significant sports organizations In the past, and he is presently a qualified solicitor and barrister specializing in litigation at DMH Stallard.
He said: “Given the numbers involved, I don’t think that is an unreasonable figure – you’re looking at a substantial number of people.”
Lenny Woodard, a former professional who played both rugby codes, is among the numerous ex-rugby players diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 46.
The Pontypool native earned five caps for Wales Rugby League and competed for Wales in South Africa. Currently, he serves on a committee that represents players involved in the lawsuit. Woodard anticipates retiring in the next few years and is concerned that his partner or children may have to bear the cost of his potential decades-long care.
Mr Woodard said: “I was diagnosed in 2021, slowly but surely I see things getting worse.
“There’s a misconception that we’re trying to get a pay-out out of greed – but for me personally, and I’m sure I speak on behalf of the others, we’re just making sure our families aren’t burdened with the cost of treating these diagnoses.
“I’m 46 now, in nine years time, at 55, I’ll require full-time care then. If I live to 75, that’s 20 years of full-time care. If you’re looking at £1,500 a week on current figures, we’re approaching millions of pounds.
“I don’t want to go into any care setting, and I certainly don’t want to be there for 20 years, but that is the reality we have to plan for.”
World Rugby stated that it had no further comment to provide beyond the joint statement it released in December 2022 on behalf of itself, the Welsh Rugby Union, and Rugby Football Union.
The statement read: “We can confirm that on 24 November, World Rugby, WRU and the RFU received notification from Rylands Garth solicitors, on behalf of 169 former professional rugby union players, requesting an extension to the court deadline to serve us with full details of their claims.
“Rugby is a sport that supports lifelong health and wellbeing benefits for participants at every level. It is loved by millions of current and former players around the globe.
“We care deeply about every member of the rugby family and have been saddened by the brave personal accounts of former players who are struggling with any health issues. We wish to let them know that we care, we listen, and we never stand still when it comes to further cementing rugby as the most progressive sport on athlete welfare.
“Acting on the latest science, evidence and independent expert guidance, we constantly strive to safeguard and support all our players – future, current, and former. Rugby is a leader in the prevention, management and identification of head impacts and World Rugby also proactively funds transformational research, embraces innovation and explores technology that can make the sport as accessible, inclusive and safe as possible for all participants.
“As has been the position since December 2020 when these claims were first made, we remain unable to comment on the specifics of the legal action as we continue to await the full details of the claims being made against us.”