Rugby’s Five-minute Rule Under Fire

Barry O’Driscoll, former Irish rugby player from the ‘70’s, is today a respected doctor who has also served 15 years on the International Rugby Board (IRB) where “he held positions on the medical, anti-doping and disciplinary committees.” However, last summer he resigned those positions.

Citing among his reasons for leaving the game’s governing body, he mentioned as one example “the events of 9 March this year, when Ireland played France in the Six Nations and when his nephew, Brian, got concussed on the field.” Apparently, too many collisions had taken its toll. “Brian O’Driscoll lost his bearings, was clearly unsteady on his feet and had to be helped from the field, like a boxer assisted from the ring.”

Understandably, you didn’t have to be a medical professional to know that the younger O’Driscoll was out of it. Strangely enough, he returned to the game as if needing a breather cured everything.

In the IRB’s rule book it states in regulation 10 of the code “that any player suspected of concussion must be taken off and not allowed back on to the field.” However, there is a trial rule in place—the Pitch Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA), or the five-minute rule—that states “that if a player with suspected concussion can pass a series of tests lasting five minutes then he can be allowed back into the fray.” Notice the use of the word ‘fray’ instead of game. Seems most appropriate for the game of rugby, or what some people feel is a free-for-all at best.

The elder O’Driscoll has minced no words in saying, “Rugby is trivialising concussion. They are sending these guys back on to the field and into the most brutal arena. It’s ferocious out there. The same player who 18 months ago was given a minimum of seven days recovery time is now given five minutes. There is no test that you can do in five minutes that will show that a player is not concussed.”

Suffice to say that O’Driscoll’s statement solicited an immediate response from the IRB. “The IRB and its member unions take all areas of player welfare, including concussion, extremely seriously and have engaged with relevant experts and the playing community to design and implement policies and protocols that put the player first. The Rugby approach has been endorsed by the world’s leading forum on concussion management in sport and while we always strive to do more, the PSCA approach in elite rugby is having a positive impact.”

Those relevant experts were headed by chief medical officer of the IRB, Martin Raftery, who “facilitated the working group.”

Clearly the elder O’Driscoll and Raftery are on opposite sides of today’s concussion issue. Raftery even went so far as to say last year that “evidence supporting the theory that collision sports have a negative effect on cognitive function has been questioned by many scientists.”

Perhaps wrestling, hockey, and rugby share a common thread: regulating the game to lessen concussions makes it less appealing to the fans, and disinterest  is not in the “best interest” of revenues.

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