The Chaplain for Sport has joined a senior Labour MP in calling for new rules to be put in place for youngsters to combat the effects of repeated blows to the head in boxing and rugby.
Former shadow Welsh secretary Paul Flynn said there was fresh evidence of the “deadly, long-term effect in early Alzheimer’s to those who suffer repeated blows to the head”, as he warned that practices in both sports may no longer be acceptable for younger generations.
High impact sports such as these and American Football have come under increasing scrutiny amid fears about both the long and short-term consequences of receiving multiple head injuries.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, who is also CEO for the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, agreed with Mr Flynn in calling for new rules to control such sports.
“Sport is like electricity. It can kill and paralyse but it can also generate light, warmth, mobility and peace as it brings people together,” he told The Universe. “Play is in our human DNA. Sport – physical, fiercely, competitive sport – needs to be controlled if it is to enhance rather than maim lives.”
He pointed out that as the training, speed and strength of sportspeople increases, so too does the potential damage and dangers of physical-contact sports.
“There is an increasing store of evidence that repeated blows to the head are – if nothing more – the catalyst for Alzheimer’s,” he added.
Mr Flynn put the question forward to Commons Leader David Lidington last week. “When can we discuss the injuries suffered in sport?” he asked. “We have a chance, then, to congratulate Welsh and English rugby unions, who reacted positively to the new medical knowledge of the deadly, long-term effect in early Alzheimer’s to those who suffer repeated blows to the head.
“Could we also look to the suggestions made here last week,” he added, “that what we need is international action throughout the rugby and boxing worlds to recognise that practices that have been tolerated for a long time should no longer be permitted, to allow these sports to be made acceptable to younger generations.”
In reply, Mr Lidington said he would pass these concerns on to ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
“It’s right that it should be primarily for the sport’s governing bodies to take the lead on this, and I’m sure that they, since they are so keen to recruit young men and increasingly young women to those sports, want to be able to say confidently that the rules that they have in place do everything that can be done in terms of protecting the safety of competitors.”
Mgr Felzmann pointed out that, thanks to the influence of Christianity, gladiator games were banned in Rome around the fourth century AD.
“Bare-knuckle prize-fighting is a thing of the past in most civilised countries,” he said.
“All too often repeated blows to the head – even in gloved fists – wreak brain damage in young heads. Tackles deemed reckless within the meaning of rugby’s rules generate suspensions as that sport strives to reduce damage and death especially to young people.”
The chaplain questioned who would take the lead in protecting the safety of competitors if sports’ governing bodies refused to.
“A balance needs to be struck between the extremes of decadent nanny-state mollycoddling and savagely-barbarian, blood-lust-cathartic spectacles.”
Picture: Exeter Chiefs Gareth Steenson is tackled by Bordeaux Begles Loann Goujon and Julien Rey during the European Champions Cup, Pool Five match at Sandy park, Exeter. (David Davies/PA).