Rugby ace forced into early retirement calls brain education video "patronising"

A World Rugby video detailing 'modifiable risk factors' has been dubbed "patronising" by a former player who was forced to give up his dreams of playing the sport due to brain injuries.

Former Dragons and Wales under-20 centre Adam Hughes was told to hang up his boots at 28 in 2018 after being advised two major trauma scars on his brain meant a rugby career was untenable.

Hughes—who also spent time with Bristol and Exeter Chiefs —is part of a legal case alongside numerous other ex-pros suing World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) for alleged neglect.

Amid growing concerns regarding player welfare in the sport, World Rugby recently unveiled the Brain Health Initiative, which aims to educate players while offering clinics for players who feel they could benefit.

However, Hughes was frustrated to see the two actions linked, particularly when a player's weight, alcohol intake and social activity were cited among the 'modifiable risk factors' alongside head trauma.

"But the disappointing thing was it was linked to this video, which basically says 'look, there's 12 reasons why any current or former player can be suffering from brain health, only one of which is actually getting your head knocked around playing rugby'," he told the Scrum V podcast.

"You're talking about alcoholics, diet, not keeping fit and active.

"Everyone that I know in this case has said 'everyone I know of is fit and active [and] hasn't got any sort of alcohol problems' and the only common factor across the whole board is that we all played rugby and we all had our heads knocked around an awful lot."

Hughes, 31, has been told by medical professionals he's on a similar trajectory to fellow former professionals Alix Popham, Michael Lipman and Steve Thompson.

All three of those alumni are included in the lawsuit against rugby's lawmakers after developing brain abnormalities, early-onset dementia and probable CTE, each before the age of 45.

"They [World Rugby] might have released it in the best interests, but it came across in completely the wrong way; just almost like 'yes, we'll look after you, but the reasons why you're struggling is not necessarily our fault'," Hughes added.

"That's how it felt."

The announcement of World Rugby's Brain Health Initiative—and the 12 'risk factors'—was met with scrutiny in places, with some of the impression that players were being handed too much of the responsibility.

Many applauded the decision to restrict elite teams to only 15 minutes of full-contact training per week, but World Rugby announced the change as mere guidelines that clubs weren't obliged to meet.

Hughes did praise World Rugby for their forward-thinking approach in regards to offering players—past and present—more outreach and education, however.

"Sandwiched in that report was an initiative that ex-players can access their brain clinics, which I'll applaud and I think is a good thing," he said.

Player welfare is of paramount concern in rugby as more retired players come forward regarding brain trauma, with Carl Hayman among the latest to join the aforementioned lawsuit.

The former New Zealand regular has also been diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 42, having suffered over the course of a career that saw him play close to 450 matches.

It's unlikely Hughes will be alone in feeling part of World Rugby's reaction to this topic doesn't display enough accountability, or adequate explanation in how the problem might be addressed.

A World Rugby spokesperson said in a statement: "By providing accessible video resources and high-quality care through the establishment of brain health clinics around the world we can, as a sport, better support current and former players, both mentally and physically.

"We would be happy to discuss our approach with Adam and it's great to hear that he supports the brain health clinic concept.

"We remain unwavering in our commitment to reduce the risk of head trauma, which is one of the dementia risk factors highlighted in the new video."

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