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Boot out of rugby coaches who rush players with brain injuries back onto pitch, says dad of tragic Ben

By Claire McNeilly

Published 13/02/2016

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson
Ben Robinson

The father of a Carrickfergus schoolboy who died after being concussed during a rugby match has welcomed a report that concludes players are being rushed back too soon after brain injuries sustained on the pitch.

Peter Robinson's 14-year-old son Ben was the first person in Northern Ireland to die from what is now known as second impact syndrome, having been sent back into action for a further 25 minutes after sustaining a severe blow to the head on January 29, 2011.

Now, five years later, Mr Robinson said he wanted offending coaches to be sacked for putting people's lives in danger for the sake of sport.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Robinson added it was time to start referring to "brain injury" rather than "concussion".

"There are far too many people who have an interest in telling sport what it wants to hear," insisted the 49-year-old, who became a campaigner for concussion awareness after losing Ben.

"It's like the tobacco industry in years gone by. It's time to start listening to the brain injury experts, not the sports experts."

Scotland-based Mr Robinson said the new report - co-authored by South African concussion expert Dr Jon Patricios, World Rugby's head of medicine Martin Raftery and the RFU's Dr Simon Kemp - was significant because it showed players had a 60% increased risk of suffering further injuries after the initial one.

And the Lurgan native, whose lobbying helped prompt the Scottish Government to introduce the If In Doubt, Sit Them Out message for sports organisations, has also welcomed the new big budget Hollywood movie Concussion, which he said would help spread a message he has been trying to get across for the past five years.

"Coaches who put children who've suffered brain injuries back on the field should be booted out of the sport," added Mr Robinson.

"If they are willing to risk children's lives for the sake of winning, they are in the sport for the wrong reasons.

"People talk about hard decisions, and taking a kid off during a game is supposedly a hard decision.

"But for me a hard decision is whether you switch a life support machine off or donate your kids' organs after they've died. They're the real hard decisions.

"At the end of the day, it's about child protection. We have to put our kids where properly trained people can look after them.

"The game should come second, player welfare should come first. If there's any suspicion of concussion, a player must be removed immediately.

"We're still hearing stories of players who have clearly got concussion being patted on the back and told to play on because otherwise they're going to let their team-mates down. It's just not acceptable."

Mr Robinson, who lives in Edinburgh, pointed to five concussion-related rugby incidents locally in the past six days alone.

Keith Earls suffered a suspected concussion in Ireland's Six Nations match last Sunday, while four Ulster players - Robbie Diack, Ian Humphreys, Stuart Olding and Peter Browne - were also thought to have sustained similar injuries during a PRO12 game the same weekend.

"A red mist comes down when people hear the word 'concussion' - that word doesn't tell it like it is," Mr Robinson said.

"But if you asked a coach if he was happy keeping a kid on with a brain injury, his attitude would soon change.

"It's all down to terminology. Concussion is talked about like a bruise, but we all know now that it's a brain injury, and serious if not properly dealt with.

"In Ben's case it led to a fatality. That was a rare event, but concussion itself isn't rare - indeed, in rugby it's the injury players get the most."

Mr Robinson said an important message was carried in the Concussion movie - which traces the true story of Dr Bennet Omalu, who discovered a progressive brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in a former American footballer.

Star Will Smith, who plays Dr Omalu, has said that denying the link between repeated head injuries in sport and long-term brain damage was "insanity".

"The Will Smith movie will help raise awareness about what can happen if we don't deal properly with these issues," said Mr Robinson.

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