Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 May 2016

Don't ban rugby tackling, begs student paralysed in school game

By Lesley Houston

Published 03/03/2016

David Ross (centre) with wheelchair rugby team-mates
David Ross (centre) with wheelchair rugby team-mates
David Ross at his school formal

A Co Down man left paralysed after breaking his neck in a school rugby match has said the "key element" of contact should not be removed from the sport.

David Ross, from Moira, spoke out after 70 doctors and health professionals yesterday urged schools in the UK and Ireland to ban tackling.

David was just 18 when he suffered a broken neck and ended up in a wheelchair after a number of players fell on top of him during a ruck.

But he does not blame the sport that he loves for his injuries, instead attributing them to a "freak accident".

The 21-year-old now plays wheelchair rugby for Ireland but still misses the game.

Yesterday, he articulated his continued support for the sport following the publication of an open letter to government ministers, compiled by chief medical officers and children's commissioners here, in Great Britain and in the Irish Republic.

The letter, which was signed by more than 70 doctors and academics, said injuries from this "high-impact collision sport" could have lifelong consequences for children.

The health professionals added they believed the risks to players under 18 "are high and injuries are often serious".

They argued also that two-thirds of injuries in youth rugby and most concussions were caused by tackles.

And they said schools, many of which make the sport compulsory from the age of 11, should move to touch and non-contact forms of the game.

But opponents of the proposed changes said rugby built character and that other forms of the game were less challenging.

Yesterday, brave Ulster University student David insisted his injuries were the result of an accident that could have happened to anyone anywhere.

"It was a freak accident," he said. "These accidents can happen doing anything, and I have met a lot of people who have broken their necks doing a lot of different things.

"Rugby has such a small margin of this type of accident, to be honest, so I can't blame rugby for the accident.

"I've no resentment at all towards the sport. I was just on the ground and the tackle happened beside me. Two guys fell down on top of me and my neck bent a way that it shouldn't have."

David also outlined why he was not supporting the call for tackling to be banned from rugby played in schools.

"It's something I don't agree with," he said.

"I think that it would just change the sport. Rugby is a contact sport, and it's kind of a key element of the sport, so to take it out would change the sport for me.

"It's a great sport and people who go into it know it's a contact sport and they know what they are going in for.

"Injuries are part of all sports, and I think changing it is something that shouldn't be done."

David told the Belfast Telegraph that despite his injury, he still loved the sport, which he continues to play in his wheelchair and which takes him across the British Isles at least once a month for matches.

"It's a different sport from rugby, but it fills the gap," he said. "But I will always miss playing rugby."

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