Ongoing and future injury prevention and research strategies will headline the World Rugby Player Welfare and Laws Symposium 2021, which will be hosted virtually from 29-31 March.

Underscoring the sport’s unwavering commitment to player welfare and safety, the annual symposium is a vehicle for discussing the latest science and research and determining player welfare-driven actions for the global governing body to follow when considering the shape of the game and its laws.

Notable recent advances that have been born from the symposium include:

  • Head Contact Process (2020 Symposium): Supports rugby’s ambition of reducing the risk of head injury through stronger and more consistent on- and off-field sanctioning of high-risk tackle actions, in turn encouraging a positive change in player behaviour. Operational in elite rugby since February 2021
  • Breakdown law application guideline (2020 Symposium): Reduce the risk of concussion at the breakdown and enhance the contest for possession via strict enforcement of law. Operational since July 2020
  • Research (2020 Symposium): Further research commissioned specifically for women’s and community rugby as well as bespoke substitution impact study (all ongoing)
  • Welfare-driven law trials (2019 Symposium): Implementation of a package of innovative law trials with the ambition of enhancing player welfare outcomes by increasing space and reducing defensive line speed. Operational since January 2020
  • Activate injury-prevention programme (2019 symposium): Launch across 105 unions of the Activate injury-prevention exercise and warm-up programme which reduces the risk of soft-tissue injuries by 26 and 40 per cent and concussion risk by 29 and 60 per cent in youth and adult rugby players respectively. Operational since 2019
  • High Tackle Sanction Framework (2019 Symposium): Launch of the High Tackle Sanction Framework prior to Rugby World Cup 2019 within an extensive package of player welfare standards, aiding a 28 per cent reduction in concussions versus the elite competition average. Operational since 2019 (now HCP)
  • Player load guidance and passport (2019 Symposium): Launch of evidence-based load research and guidance for coaches to aid injury-prevention. Operational since August 2019
  • Head Injury Assessment (HIA) medical standards expansion (2019 Symposium): Expanded mandatory player welfare requirements for which elite competitions worldwide must comply in order to access the HIA process, including mandatory uniformed injury surveillance, mandatory match-day doctor and mandatory video review.

Open to the global rugby family from day two, the 2021 symposium will be built around three dedicated themes – medic workshops, player education, welfare-driven laws and research. Speakers include Director of the Centre for Dementia Prevention, Professor Craig Ritchie, and emotional literacy educator and trainer Karen BK Chang, who will run a session on mental wellbeing, furthering the sport’s commitment to supporting players both on and off the field.

Day one will be dedicated to a closed discussion with participants from across the global network of rugby medics, largely focusing on chief medical officer and team doctor updates and workshops. Day two kicks off with the Welfare-driven laws session. During this session, there will be a detailed overview of initial outcomes from the package of law trials currently operational in the respective Super Rugby competitions. World Rugby Director of Rugby and High Performance, Joe Schmidt, will lead a session on the implementation of the new Head Contact Process which is aimed at reducing concussions via encouraging player behaviour change, and shape of the game trends.

The Player Education Workshop, run in partnership with International Rugby Players (IRP), completes day two. It is open to all elite players and will cover a broad range of topics from the Head Injury Assessment (HIA), and research-driven law and medical technology trials to mental wellbeing and long-term health and how simple lifestyle changes can aid former player wellbeing.

The symposium will close with an update on current and future research projects, including announcing details of a ground-breaking community and age-grade concussion study. This will be supplemented by an update on the wide-ranging substitution study and women’s rugby specific research. There will also be an update from the French community rugby tackle height trial which has demonstrated highly encouraging injury-reduction outcomes in its initial stages.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “The Player Welfare and Laws Symposium is a cornerstone of our evidence-based approach to injury-reduction in rugby as it brings together the latest medical knowledge and game trends to inform the advancement of welfare-driven law trials and changes that benefit all levels.”

World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Éanna Falvey added: “The sport is united in its ongoing and unwavering commitment to the welfare of players at all levels. We will continue to review the science as it evolves and act in line with it, always putting players first. The symposium is at the heart of that approach and this year we are focusing on injury prevention, research priorities and the long-term health of the rugby family.

“This year, we are particularly delighted to be hosting a dedicated session for elite players in partnership with IRP. Players are at the heart of the rugby family and their voice is important to the advancement of the sport on and off the field, while equally this is an opportunity for them to be better informed about the unwavering, progressive and research-based initiatives that are being run to further protect and support them on the field and in life outside of rugby.”

Media wishing to attend the World Rugby Player Welfare and Laws Symposium 2021 will be able to register via a separate media advisory.