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Newsletter - Players Matters

Players Matters - July 2023

A bi- monthly newsletter covering areas of research, policy change and Player Welfare initiatives.
Welcome to Players Matters


Welcome to you to Players Matters, a bi-monthly newsletter that I share with you on behalf of World Rugby’s Medical and Scientific Team.

As a team, we have so much going on, covering areas of research, policy change, and our contribution to World Rugby’s player welfare initiatives, that we felt it important to create this newsletter as a way to bring you up to speed and to share the most interesting developments from our inner workings and global collaborations. 

We’re all part of the rugby community, and so we’re all invested in the health, well-being and performance of our rugby family, and this newsletter is our way of communicating what we think is especially important and interesting.

The more widely these concepts, policies and ideas are communicated the better, and so if you’re receiving this, thank you.  We value your membership, expertise and opinions.  We’d also like to encourage you to help us expand this community and so please feel free to forward this email on to anyone else who you think might be interested – other medical professionals, researchers, clinical practitioners in the rugby space, officials and even coaches.  The more people we can get talking about the key issues, the better.

So thank you once again, welcome to the very first edition, and we look forward to ongoing conversations!

The Boston meeting on Neurodegenerative Diseases and repetitive head impacts

World Rugby’s Concussion Working Group recently gathered in Boston, USA, for an extremely fruitful and stimulating two-day workshop, where it met with experts in the area of neurodegenerative diseases (NDDs) and repeated head impacts. 

The issue of long-term player health is a significant focus and controversy facing all contact and collision sports.  World Rugby has long been committed to an evidence-based approach to understanding and managing all player welfare issues, and so we arranged this Boston meeting to hear the very latest research and evidence from global  authorities in areas including neuropathology, epidemiology, neuropsychology and diagnosis of NDDs that include Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

We are now working on the outcomes from this meeting, which will include some form of update of our 2014 Position Statement on CTE, as well as stated actions that we have identified as important to prevent and manage the consequences of concussion and repetitive head impacts. 

We also recorded every presentation, along with the question session the followed each talk (and which was expertly handled by Dr Rebekah Mannix, to whom we are exceptionally grateful for her assistance), and we had all our invited experts submit brief summaries of their presentations.  All these will be published on our site in due course, as part of our commitment to complete transparency in the player welfare space.  In an upcoming newsletter, before this year is out, we will let you know of all the outcomes and perhaps most importantly, our plans for prevention and management of NDDs in rugby players at all levels.

Concussion recovery and instrumented mouthguard research (iMG) projects drawing to a close

As the 2022/23 rugby season draws to a close, we are in the process of wrapping up the data collection phase of a large, ambitious set of global studies assessing recovery from concussion and using instrumented mouthguards to study head acceleration events in the game.  We began this journey in 2020, studying community rugby in children and adults in New Zealand, followed by a small group of elite teams in Europe.  That was expanded in 2022/23, into half a dozen studies on elite players in the 2022 Rugby World Cup, England’s men’s and women’s competitions, Currie Cup of South Africa, Super Rugby, and most recently, the Farah Palmer Cup.  These are some of the most comprehensive studies we’ve ever undertaken, not only using the iMGs, but also testing salivary mRNA in a search to improve concussion diagnosis and management, and more comprehensive concussion screens to guide both rehabilitation and return-to-play after concussion.

We are really excited about the potential outcomes of these studies, and now that most of those tournaments are complete, our research team and collaborators begin the process of extracting and analysing data that we hope reveals more about head impacts and head ‘load’ than has ever been known by any sport.  The first phase in the community game and a small pilot cohort of elite teams has just had its first papers accepted for publication, and so we will be able to share some key findings from those studies in our next newsletter.  Beyond that, we expect literally dozens of publications from the various studies, and will share the most impactful of those with you right here in the coming year.

MCC in Bordeaux

One of the cornerstones of our work is our annual Medical Commission Conference.  This year, it happens in Bordeaux during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.  Part of the is meeting aimed primarily at the Chief Medical Officers and practitioners within our Member Unions, while another part, in collaboration with the Rugby Science Network, is opened up to all researchers and clinicians with an interest in rugby research science.

We have recently moved part of this meeting online, too, and if you are unable to join us in one of the world’s most famous wine-producing regions, there will be an option for you to dial in no matter where in the world you are.  We will be sharing a more detailed agenda, and the registration details, in our August newsletter, so do look out for that.

So, there is much to look forward to, and we are excited to tell you about it, and then to hear from you as a community that shares player welfare interests and objectives.  Once again, please share this newsletter as widely as you can, feel free to engage with us, and we look forward to our shared journey.

Yours in rugby health,

Prof Éanna Falvey