“We’re not trying to destroy rugby – we want to save it”

Exclusive Adam Hughes: 'We're not trying to destroy rugby - we want to save it' - PA/ALAMY

Exclusive Adam Hughes: ‘We’re not trying to destroy rugby – we want to save it’ – PA/ALAMY

There is a thinking that the lawsuit against World Rugby by almost 200 players will cripple the game financially.

It is the short-sighted view of the concussion epidemic that has engulfed rugby, but while the main priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of the players, they are also trying to protect the game they love.

Adam Hughes is a former professional player, who played for Exeter Chiefs and Welsh club Dragons, before retiring in 2018. The Welshman is one of almost 200 players who have taken legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union.

Hughes is well qualified to speak about the dangers of repeated head impacts after being informed by medical professionals that he is on the same path as Alix Popham, Michael Lipman and Steve Thompson, who all have traumatic brain injury, early onset dementia and probable CTE.

In an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport, World Rugby boss Alan Gilpin hit out at the seemingly targeted use of the media to recruit new complainants, while also arguing that those affected should engage with the governing body rather than take legal action. But while making the game safer is his priority, Hughes believes World Rugby needs to recognize that these lawsuits are also aimed at ensuring the sport has a meaningful future.

“We’re not a bunch of guys who want the game to go away,” the 32-year-old said. “We all love rugby and really enjoy watching it. There is absolutely no vendetta here at all.

“I honestly feel the game is at a crossroads and rugby really needs to take a right turn. What these ex-players are doing is creating a future for the game.

“With more ex-players being diagnosed with terrible conditions like early-onset dementia, parents want to keep their kids away from the game. This is something World Rugby needs to wake up to because it would really cripple the game.

“I have played at the professional level and refereed it at the grassroots level. I have seen the root and problem of participation at lower levels with first and second team rugby.

“Hopefully with all this media attention around the long-term health risks of concussions and head impacts, World Rugby will start to make meaningful changes, but as it stands, they haven’t.”

“There are some games where I can’t remember what happened”

Hughes has struggled with the after-effects of concussions since his retirement and has openly admitted that he could not remember certain parts of his career due to the consistent head knocks he suffered on the pitch.

One part of Gilpin’s interview that really irked Hughes was his claim that head knocks in the community game are not “comparable” to those suffered by professional players.

The concussion lobby group Progressive Rugby recently published a seven-point plan to limit concussions, which includes a minimum 21-day non-negotiable blanket stop after a concussion, regardless of a player’s concussion history, but Gilpin favors an individualized return-to-play protocol.

Hughes favors Progressive Rugby’s approach. “Given the way the game is now, and the number of players coming out, I don’t see any harm in World Rugby being more risk-averse,” he said.

“To me, that seems like the most obvious and safe way to go now as we reassess and learn more about concussions. Why don’t we want to be cautious at first and you can always bring back one player at a time -basis in the future the more we learn and understand about it.

“I think for now just being careful is in everyone’s best interest, but also the game in general. The biggest concern with head injuries is that there is almost no recovery.

“There are certain games I’ve played in where I can’t remember anything that happened, so I really think they need to be a lot more careful because there’s a lot at stake.”

Just last month, former Wales captain Ryan Jones revealed he had been diagnosed with early onset dementia aged 41, followed by former England internationals Thompson and Lipman along with former Wales international Alix Popham.

Exclusive Adam Hughes: 'We're not trying to destroy rugby - we want to save it' - PA

Exclusive Adam Hughes: ‘We’re not trying to destroy rugby – we want to save it’ – PA

Despite World Rugby claiming they are doing everything they can to make rugby safer, Hughes insists they are not doing enough. “The most disappointing thing from what I read was that there wasn’t really too much about how they’re going to make the game safer or potentially what we can do to help the guys,” he said.

“I know they said to contact them directly but make of that what you will. There is very little acknowledgment and more finger pointing which is disappointing when you are waiting for them to respond after so long.

“They question things that are not as important as the numbers involved. People are not interesting in tic for such things.

– They know exactly how many people are involved. What the rugby public wants to know is what World Rugby is going to do to make the game safer, to make it more successful, and to stop the rot we have in participation levels.”

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