The Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney was being disingenuous when he claimed there is no scientific proof between concussion and CTE, a chronic brain condition, a former medical advisor to the sport’s governing body has said.
Barry O’Driscoll told The Times on Wednesday the players were still not being told “the truth”. He also took aim at England head coach Eddie Jones for saying the “game was safe.”
O’Driscoll — the uncle of Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll and a four-time Irish international himself — resigned from his role in 2012, when World Rugby was known as the International Rugby Board.
He stepped away over his opposition to the pitchside head assessments that were being introduced.
England World Cup winner Steve Thompson last week announced he was one of a group of former internationals planning legal action against rugby authorities over brain injuries they claim they have suffered.
While Sweeney welcomed the action taken by the players he said the link between concussion and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was far less clear, saying there was “no scientific proof of the causal link” between the two, although he added “research is ongoing into that”.
O’Driscoll was scathing about Sweeney’s comments, saying players were not being told “the truth”.
“There is proof of CTE, beyond any reasonable doubt. Every bit of research that comes out confirms it.
“Just because we have to wait to cut the head open to confirm it, means it can be ignored.
“They have wilfully not been accepting it by not telling the players, ‘Your brain might go in a nasty way at an early age.’”
O’Driscoll is unhappy too at the language used by Jones before the Six Nations match with France when he told his players to be “brutal”.
“He called (Sam) Underhill and (Tom) Curry the kamikaze kids,” O’Driscoll. “Don’t use that language.”
O’Driscoll also believes the 10-minute Head Injury Assessment (HIA) is not fit for purpose.
“It’s absolutely common that after you get up and dust yourself off, you’re fine, but symptoms can then come that night, or the next day,” he said.
“The HIA is inadequate, it proves nothing. A lot of the symptoms come the next day.
“You’re putting people with potentially damaged brains back in the game.”
O’Driscoll said some of his fellow members of the medical profession had been “culpable” in giving players “the nod… to go back on,”
“I don’t think we’ve got anywhere since 2011.”
He insisted some progress had been made.
“I love the game and some really good things have been done,” said the 77-year-old. “They’ve taken head contact out, any contact is penalised straight away, they’ve done well with the changes to the scrums.”
But O’Driscoll said it broke his heart to read testimonies from the families of those affected, such as former Wales international Alix Popham.
“And those guys are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.