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Former rugby union players to sue authorities for brain damage

A group of former rugby union international players are starting the process of suing the authorities for leaving them with permanent brain damage.

The process of starting the claim is underway after each member was recently diagnosed with early signs of dementia, which they believe was caused by head injuries throughout their playing career.

It has been reported that a letter of claim will be sent next week to the respective bodies of English and Welsh rugby, as well as World Rugby, totalling millions of pounds of damage. A group class action could follow.

It is the first time a move like this has been seen in world rugby and could see systemic change into how the future of rugby is played and how the welfare of athletes is considered.

Steve Thompson, who played in every match for England before they won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, has stated his condition has worsened to the point where he cannot remember playing in the competition.

“It's like I'm watching the game with England playing and I can see me there - but I wasn't there, because it's not me,” he told BBC Sport.

“It's just bizarre. People talk about stories, and since the World Cup I've talked to the lads that were there, and you pick up stories, and then you can talk about it, but it's not me being there, it's not me doing it, because it's just gone.”

With constant new research coming into light regarding the links between contacts sports and neurodegenerative diseases, Thompson believes that head knocks sustained through playing rugby is the cause of his dementia diagnosis.

“When we first started going full-time in the mid-1990s, training sessions could quickly turn into full contact,” he added.

“There was one session when the scrummaging hadn't gone quite right, and they made us do a hundred live scrums. When it comes to it, we were like a bit of meat, really.

“The whole point of us doing this is to look after the young players coming through. I don't want rugby to stop. It's been able to give us so much, but we just want to make it safer. It can finish so quickly, and suddenly you've got your whole life in front of you.”

The Rugby Football Union (RFU), who governs the sport in England said: “The RFU has had no legal approach on this matter. The Union takes player safety very seriously and implements injury prevention and injury treatment strategies based on the latest research and evidence.

“The Union has played an instrumental role in establishing injury surveillance, concussion education and assessment, collaborating on research as well as supporting law changes and law application to ensure proactive management of player welfare.”

Author: Jake Wilkin