The Risk of Rugby: Research suggests that rugby players are more likely to develop dementia, Parkinson’s and MND – how can we overcome this?

11 July 2023

There is no doubt that rugby is an extremely popular sport, with most people knowing someone who plays this sport. World Rugby calculates that there are approximately eight million rugby players worldwide and more than 500 million fans.

Whilst this sport’s popularity remains, there is growing concern around the potential link between rugby and neurological disorders such as, motor neurone disease (“MND”) and dementia. Rugby is a contact sport which involves frequent collisions, including head impact. Studies have suggested that repeated head injuries can increase the risk of developing dementia later in life.

It is inevitable that whilst playing any sports injuries will be sustained however, it is imperative that injuries which arise from reckless actions or unsafe environments are correctly penalised and prevented.

A study undertaken by the University of Glasgow for Alzheimer’s Research concluded that former international rugby players are over 2.67 times more likely to develop dementia; over 3 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s; and over 15 times more likely to develop MND when compared to non-rugby players. The research team considers that there is a direct correlation between the number of head impacts and injuries which are sustained whilst playing rugby and the development of dementia, Parkinson’s, and MND.

£300m Brain Injury Compensation Lawsuit

In recent years there has been significant publicity surrounding former rugby players who have developed MND and dementia. A number of well-known figures such as, Doddie Weir who sadly passed away in 2022 following his diagnosis of MND, and Rob Burrows who was diagnosed with MND in 2019 have been highlighted in the media recently.

In December 2020, a legal claim was issued on behalf of nine former rugby players against World Rugby and the English and Welsh Rugby Governing Bodies. The claim was issued on the basis that the proposed defendants were negligent in their action of failing to protect the players from permanent injury caused by repeated concussion and head impact. The firm which represents over 100 professional players are involved within the claim and their aim is to make it clear that their intention for pursuing this claim is not for compensation, but to ensure that the sport is safe.

Some of the former rugby players involved include Steve Thompson, Ryan Jones, Dafydd James, and Alix Popham. All of whom have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and other irreversible brain conditions.

By 2022, the figure count of former rugby players involved in the legal case superseded more than 200 ex-rugby players. It is anticipated that the total claim will top £300 million.

What is the current position?

The Letter of Claim was sent in December 2020, and since then all parties have taken measures to agree on a financial settlement outside of court. However, in recent weeks, the legal case has gone to the High Court for a preliminary hearing in the claims against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union, and the Welsh Rugby Union.

What is being done to protect the players of today?

Several new measures have been introduced in an attempt to minimise the risk of injury to rugby players. Some of the key changes include:

  • Improved concussion protocols: provisions will now be taken to ensure that all individuals who are believed to have suffered concussion will undergo a thorough evaluation before being allowed to return to the field.
  • Changes to the rules within rugby: one of which includes lowering the tackle height to below the waist to minimise the risk of concussion.
  • Emphasis on protection: players are being urged to wear protective gear such as head guards, or mouth guards under the new rules.
  • Further implementation of education to players, and newcomers: players are being educated on the risks of injuries that can occur if the sport is not practiced correctly.

It is extremely important that these measures are taken forward and the necessary changes are made. This will ensure that the current and next generation of players are provided with added protection and increased knowledge to enjoy the game that they have grown to love.

How can we help you?

If you or a loved one believe that you have been injured whilst playing rugby and believe that your injuries are as a consequence of a negligent action or unsafe environment, then you may be able to pursue a Personal Injury claim.

Our award-winning Personal Injury Team are experts in their field. In fact, two of our Solicitors are recognised as Brain Injury Specialists (Sophie Jenkins, Partner and Rebecca Proctor, Associate Solicitor). If you would like a free confidential chat with one of our experts, then please get in contact with us on 01267 239000 or email us at We would be more than happy to assist and support you every step of the way.

This article was written by Redkite Solicitors’ Legal Advisor, Lowri Bourne. To find out more about Lowri and the support that she can provide to you, visit her profile visit her website profile here.


The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.