Although not surprising, the results speak for themselves. According to a study by a team from the University of Glasgow, former international rugby players are two and a half times more likely than the general population to develop neurodegenerative diseases. The risk of developing Parkinson’s disease would also be three times higher and that of motor neuron disease, a type of degenerative disease, would be fifteen times higher, according to study results published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
The study, which looked at 412 former international Scottish rugby players before comparing them to 1,200 people from the general population, adds to previous studies pointing to links between concussions suffered by players and the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.
Three former Irish players recently filed a complaint against their federation for repeated concussions. Other players have already started legal proceedings against rugby institutions, such as former English hooker Steve Thompson, who declared in the press that he suffered from early dementia.
Are amateurs as exposed as professionals?
According to the study, if the risks are not the same according to the type of neurodegenerative disease, the position of the player would not influence. The researchers note that most of the rugby players studied were amateurs, with rugby only turning professional in 1995, showing that the risks are not limited to professional athletes. “Our concern is particularly about the risk of motor neuron disease among rugby players, which is even higher than that of former professional footballers,” said neuropathology consultant Willie Stewart, who led the research team.
“Instead of talking about lengthening the seasons and adding new competitions, we should discuss reducing them as much as possible,” he added, taking American football as an example, which has reduced contacts at the coach’s home. “I think rugby can speed up the rate at which it changes,” the researcher said.
Brian Dickie, director of research and development for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, welcomed the study and called for more research. “We know that most cases of motor neuron disease involve a complex combination of genetic and environmental risk factors, so the genetic risk factor might be different in elite athletes than in the general population,” he says. .