Schools across the UK should ban tackling and scrums from rugby games, academics have said.
Experts have renewed calls for “harmful contact” to be removed from the game at amateur level, saying the sport increases the risk of concussion and later brain damage.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, the academics said schools should “put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions”.
The experts said removing collision from school rugby is likely to “reduce and mitigate the risk of injury” in pupils.
They associated the “harmful contact” with “lowering of a person’s life chances” across a number of measures and an increased risk of dementia.
Citing previous research into sports injuries in youngsters, the pair of experts argue that rugby, along with ice hockey and American football, have the highest concussion rates.
The evidence for other strategies to reduce concussion risk in contact sport – such as mouth guards – is “weak”, the article adds.
The researchers called on the UK chief medical officers to advise the UK Government to remove “harmful contact” from the game. In 2016, the nation’s most senior medics rejected a call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby.
But Professor Pollock, who has been researching injuries and rugby injuries for more than ten years, and senior reserach associate Mr Kirkwood said that under United Nations conventions, governments have a “duty to protect children from risks of injury”.
“We call on the chief medical officers to act on the evidence and advise the UK government to put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions and remove harmful contact from the school game,” they wrote.
“Most injures in youth rugby are because of the collision elements of the game, mainly the tackle.
“In March 2016, scientists and doctors from the Sport Collision Injury Collective called for the tackle and other forms of harmful contact to be removed from school rugby. The data in support of the call is compelling.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Schools have the flexibility to offer a diverse PE curriculum which suits the needs of their students.
“We expect schools to be aware of all of the risks associated with sporting activities and to provide a safe environment for pupils.
“There is expert advice available for schools on how to manage activities safely and reduce the risk of injuries and accidents. On top of this, staff should be given the information and training they need to manage risks effectively.”