Rugby league ‘head and shoulders above football’ in terms of player care, says Super League doctor

Rugby league can be a bruising sport at times given its physical nature which is why it’s so important for governing bodies, such as the RFL in England, to be at the top of the game when it comes to medicine and sports science, as Huddersfield team doctor Ian Sampson has explained on a recent podcast.

Speaking on ‘The Giants Podcast’ Sampson details his journey from the military into medical school via an access programme, and then how he transitioned from a role as a GP to being team doctor for one of the elite rugby league teams in the country.

There have been and will always be injuries in such a physical sport but particular notice has been taken in the past 10 to 15 years on head injuries and concussion protocol.

“The people in our game and involved in rugby league, especially at our level now, are really experienced even though it looks to the untrained eye that I’ll be just stood there in gloves and with a medical bag not doing very much,” Sampson explained.

When asked about the focus on head injuries Sampson again heaped praise on the progress the sport has made.

“I just think it’s the knowledge that we’ve got now, so with knowledge always comes a change in practice and I think as a sport, as medical people involved in it you’ve got to look after the prize possessions and they’re the guys who play it, that goes right down to kids and amateur, and all the way through professional.

“Whatever team you’re playing nobody goes on the pitch to be injured, nobody goes on to be concussed. We went on a really interesting talk at the beginning of the season with the RFL, and coaches were invited and S&Cs (Strength and Conditioning coaches) were invited. 

“It’s everyone’s problem now, it’s not just a medical thing, you speak to our coaches and they’re really switched on with concussion and knowing  what the signs are and that’s taken a lot of work from the RFL right the way down on  just educating people about it, and what the potential could be because we don’t know and that’s the scary thing.”

Just earlier this year in October lawyers representing a group of 75 former players have taken a legal claim against the RFL for negligence arguing that the governing body did not “take reasonable action to protect players from permanent brain injury caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows.”

What followed was the news that Leeds Rhinos legend, Rob Burrow, who is suffering from the neurological condition Motor Neurone Disease would not join the suit with his father citing the reasons.

“Rob has been asked if he wants to, but he has never wanted to,” Geoff, who is the sports secretary for the GMB union, told The Times. “He’s adamant that (due to) the career he’s had through hard work and the skills he’s been given, he’s reaped the benefits and he wouldn’t change a thing.”

Sampson then concluded his thoughts when asked about where rugby league stands on a medical grounding compared to higher financed sports like football.

“For all intents and purposes we’re sort of a northern sport but the things that we’re doing in terms of research and in terms of protecting players and actually taking things seriously, I think we’re head and shoulders (above football).

“It’s always difficult with concussion, if you look back in the day it was always a case of stand up, bucket and sponge on the back of the neck, ask them ‘are you ok’ then ‘yeah I’m fine’ and they’d crack on but now if you’ve had a concussion or suspicion of concussion, you stop being able to make that decision yourself so that’s why HIA came in and all the evidence needs to be in line.”

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