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Time for a Rethink?
Posted by southstander on March 30 2009 - 10:09:40

by Andy Gilderdale

Rugby league at the highest level is a brutal, collision orientated sport. It requires its participants be at the highest levels of fitness and durability to be successful. Fortunately death and serious injury are not commonplace, but in the light of the recent sad passing of Leon Walker and Adam Watene do questions have to be asked about what the game demands of its players and how it monitors their wellbeing?

Read more here....

It would be inappropriate to speculate what may have led to the untimely early deaths of two apparently fit young sports professionals. Much has been made in recent years however of the shortness of the off-season in the northern hemisphere, particularly for those players involved in representative action at the end of the domestic season. The off and pre-season period is the time when players can allow their bodies to recuperate from the burden continual training and playing places them under. It also enables them to build up the strength and conditioning required to sustain them through a long, hard season. With this period reduced to a bare minimum, players are forced to work harder to cram the necessary work into a small window, placing their bodies under even greater strain.

As highly paid employees, players are also placed under pressure to play when their bodies are telling them not to. Players playing through injuries or fatigue while strapped up or following a painkilling injection are fairly commonplace, certainly in Super League where the player doesnít have to worry about being in fit for work in the morning to earn a living. The human body is a finely balanced instrument. In many cases it gives off fairly clear signals when it isnít functioning properly and needs time to heal. Ignoring those signs and placing it under further duress can have long term health repercussions - just ask former players suffering with serious knee and other joint problems since retirement.

Clubs at the elite level usually have a well-trained and staffed medical team looking after the welfare of their prized assets, the players. Over the course of the season just about every player will come into contact with the doctor or physio for a range of injuries and ailments from the minor to the serious. Other than when a player signs for a club and undergoes a medical however, how often is a more detailed medical assessment carried out? Do clubs need to take a more proactive role in monitoring the health of the employees who put their safety on the line for their benefit, e.g. scans and other tests to monitor heart and brain health?

While measures such as these may not have saved the lives of Adam Watene or Leon Walker - after all, not every illness or defect is detectable until it is too late - does the game as a whole, and the clubs in particular, not owe a massive duty of care to those who provide the entertainment which makes it such a spectacle for those of us who watch from the safety of the terraces?

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