Belfast Telegraph

Benefits of kids' rugby are myriad

By Alastair Ross

Today I and thousands of others will go to Kingspan Stadium for the traditional St Patrick's Day Schools' Cup final. Unlike previous years, this final takes place in the wake of a letter signed by a long list of medical professionals that calls for tackling and contact to be removed from schoolboy rugby.

Safety of players in any sport is of paramount importance, particularly when it involves young people. But any young person engaging in any type of physical activity runs the risk of getting hurt. Unfortunately serious - and sometimes fatal - injuries do occur, but thankfully these are extremely rare.

As a rugby fan and season ticket holder at Kingspan I may be seen as biased. But any objective analysis of rugby and other contact sports would conclude that the advantages and benefits of participation far outweigh any of the risks. Indeed, the greatest health risk to young people comes from a lack of physical activity and the associated rise in obesity.

Increased participation brings so many positives - aside from the importance of being healthy and active. Rugby develops confidence, ability to work in a team, discipline and decision-making.

Rather than seek to ban contact tackling, we should encourage the efforts by rugby authorities and schools to improve safety in the game. World rugby continues to promote player welfare and do what it can to minimise risk by promoting correct preparation and playing techniques, prevention strategies and examining the evidence around head injuries.

Ulster Rugby has worked closely with the Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to produce a new guide on concussion and has also worked proactively alongside the IRFU to provide education resources for coaches, parents and players through a range of methods, including workshops, seminars and videos.

So, yes, let's continue to work collaboratively to promote player safety, but equally importantly let us continue to promote the positive benefits that participation in rugby and other contact sports can give children throughout Northern Ireland.

Alastair Ross MLA is chairman of the Assembly all-party group on rugby

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