The rise in concussion lawsuits threatens the financial viability of some sports, the sports minister has said. Speaking to the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, Nigel Huddleston also suggested some sports would have to adapt their rules to make them safer to avoid more lawsuits in the future.
Last year, nine rugby union players diagnosed with long-term brain injuries – including the England World Cup winner Steve Thompson – joined a concussion lawsuit against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.
There has also been an alarming number of dementia cases in football, while a study in March found that teenage girls face almost double the risk of concussion playing football compared with teenage boys.
Asked about the long-term damage from playing rugby and whether sports could struggle to pay for the amount of legal action that may be coming down the line, Huddleston stressed he could not talk about individual sports because of ongoing litigation.
He said: “In terms of the issue of ‘should sports be concerned?’. Yes. Could huge litigation undermine the financial viability of sports? Of course, absolutely. The issue then is could they mitigate potential harms and concussion through changing the nature of the guidance of how those sports are conducted? I think in some cases, yes.”
Such safety measures, he said, could “potentially undermine the sport’s attractiveness and make it effectively quite a boring game and therefore not attractive any more. We’ve got to make a judgment call at some point to take further action as to the individual sports in the absence of perfect information.”
Huddleston agreed with the committee chair, Julian Knight, that football was not investing enough into research. “One thing that is very clear to me is that there are massive gaps with women’s sport and also at the amateur and school level.
“I expect and require them to put their hands in their pockets and fund research into concussion seriously and then share those results. If there are gaps then we’ll consider what the role of government could be, but I don’t think we should need to because there’s enough money in sport to be able to do this.”
Huddleston said the government’s own review into concussion in sport would be published in the autumn.