The number of former players from rugby union, rugby league and football who are taking legal action against sports governing bodies on claims they suffered brain injuries during their careers has grown to nearly 400, a British law firm said on Tuesday.
The London-based Rylands Garth firm said on Tuesday it would formally start the lawsuit on behalf of 260 rugby union players, 100 rugby league players and 15 football players, who say authorities in their sports “were negligent in failing to take reasonable action in order to protect players from permanent injury caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows.”
The latest high-profile player to join the concussion lawsuit is Dafydd James, a former rugby winger for Wales and the British & Irish Lions who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
Former Manchester United defender Colin Gibson is also now among the group after being diagnosed with dementia.
Rugby stars to have previously joined the class action included former internationals Steve Thompson (England) and Carl Hayman (New Zealand).
“The players we represent love the games they played,” Rylands Garth said in a statement. “We aim to challenge the current perceptions of the sports governing bodies, to reach a point where they accept the connection between repetitive blows to the head and permanent neurological injury and to take steps to protect players and support those who are injured.”
The 47-year-old James told the BBC he has had mental health issues and is trying to help other people who are suffering.
“I just think that knowledge is key and I think it’s important that people practice with care,” he said. “Long may the game survive and thrive. I’m certainly not one of these people that wants to see the demise of the game. It’s given me so much pleasure.”
Rylands Garth said a pre-action phase — where disputing parties are encouraged by a court to reach an early settlement to stop the matter escalating and going to an often-expensive trial — was launched against World Rugby, the English Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union in December 2020. The same position was taken against the Rugby Football League in September 2021, as well as against IFAB and the English and Welsh football federations in November 2022.
Formal lawsuits will begin once Rylands files the claims at the High Court on Tuesday.
The three rugby governing bodies subject to the lawsuit have said they await the full details of the claims being made against them.
“We care deeply about every member of the rugby family and have been saddened by the brave personal accounts of Dafydd and other former players who are struggling with health issues,” they said in a joint statement, adding that rugby is “the most progressive sport on athlete welfare.”
In 2013, the NFL settled lawsuits — at a cost at the time of $765 million — from thousands of former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems they say were caused by the very on-field clashes that fueled the game’s rise to popularity and profit.
The settlement spared the league a trial over claims that it long hid what it knew about the link between concussions and brain injuries. The settlement fund is designed to cover more than 20,000 retirees suffering from brain disorders that include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The settlement did not include an admission from the NFL that it hid information from players about head injuries.
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