A legal case involving a group of rugby players diagnosed with early onset dementia and other irreversible neurological impairments now appears destined for the courts. The case is said to be initiated by Rylands Law on behalf of a group of professional and semi-professional players against World Rugby, Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union.
The plaintiffs, who include former Welsh captain Ryan Jones, 2003 World Cup-winning England hooker Steve Thompson and former All Blacks propsman Carl Hayman, argue that the sport’s governing bodies acted negligently in failing to take appropriate action taken to protect players from permanent injuries caused by repeated concussive and subconcussive hits. In December 2020, a preliminary complaint was issued to the same governing bodies on behalf of a group of nine players.
Since then, the parties have not been able to agree on a settlement, so the matter is now likely to end up in court. The opening of the trial, set to take place on Monday, means the court will take over the administration of the cases and put the matter on a formal track before the court.
Rylands said this class action filing is the largest “class action” filed outside of the United States. All Rylands have over 185 rugby union players aged between 30, 40 and 50.
Jones, 41, a member of the British and Irish Lions squad for the 2005 tour of New Zealand, revealed his diagnosis with early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in an interview with the Sunday Times this month.
He told the newspaper: “I feel like my world is falling apart. I’m really scared because I have three kids and three stepkids and I want to be an amazing dad. I’ve lived like a superhero for 15 years of my life and I’m not. I don’t know what the future will bring.
“I am a product of an environment that is about process and human performance. I am unable to perform and I just want to live a happy, healthy and normal life. I feel like that has been taken away from me and there is nothing I can do. I can’t train harder, I can’t referee, I don’t know the rules of the game anymore.”
A statement from Rylands, confirming the forthcoming opening of the case, concluded: “This claim is not just about monetary compensation; It’s also about making the game safer and ensuring current and former players are tested so they can get the clinical help they need in the event of a brain injury.
“The players we represent love the game. Our goal is to challenge the current perceptions of governing bodies, to reach a point where they accept the link between repeated hits to the head and permanent neurological injuries, and to take action to protect players and assist those injured .”
Rylands declined to comment on whether former Gloucester lockdown Ed Slater, who has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, is part of the group involved in the action. A World Rugby spokesman, who was contacted ahead of the announcement’s release, said: “As of Sunday afternoon, no legal claim had been granted to World Rugby. It would be inappropriate to comment until we have received the formal details of the actions taken.”
Sources said the WRU felt it was “impossible” to comment as it had not seen the details of the allegation. The RFU was also contacted by PA for comment.