Rugby league to defend itself against brain damage court action by former players

RUGBY league bosses will defend themselves against a potentially game-wrecking legal case brought by former players who claim the sport's lack of care contributed to brain problems.

But as things stand, there is nothing to fight as legal papers have not yet been lodged.

Several former internationals, including Great Britain man Bobbie Goulding, are ready to take the 13-a-side code to court over lack of care and failing to protect them from the risk of concussions.

About 50, aged from their 20s to their 50s, are showing signs of neurological effects after playing the game in what is described as a ‘ticking timebomb.’

However, SunSport understands the Rugby Football League will defend itself against the action when it is eventually formally started, with a team of lawyers already on standby, meaning any court proceedings may take YEARS.

Even Rylands, the legal firm representing the players, admits it does not know when a case will start, saying: “We’ve started the pre-action process of the lawsuit.

“In terms of issuing proceedings, it’s hard to say at this point as we have to go through pre-action communications.”

Rugby league has been on red alert for such a case coming since it emerged ex-rugby union players were pursuing a similar course of action.

Goulding, who played for 10 different clubs in a 17-year career but has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, has been diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of 49.

He said: “I played within days of serious knockouts on at least three occasions.

“Widnes were playing at Hull KR live on Sky and I was knocked out. We still were living in Leeds at the time, so I didn’t get the team bus home.

“My wife drove and she had to pull over on the motorway as all my bodily functions just went right through me. She had to pull over and there was s*** and p*** everywhere. It was horrendous. I had no control at all.”

However, Ipek Tugcu, Senior Associate at Bolt Burdon Kemp, told SunSport: “These legal cases for compensation are likely to be difficult, and could last many years.

“If Rugby Football League denies fault, then the players will need to prove their case.

“To do this, they will need evidence from independent experts which proves it failed to take the bare minimum reasonable steps to prevent brain injuries.”

The dangers of concussion – a brain injury – has become the big issue in all sports after the NFL settled a case in 2013 for about £560 million

World-leading expert Dr Robert Cantu, who wrote the first return to play guidelines in 1986, believes rugby league may benefit from the 'kick' of being sued.

He said: “Sometimes that kick isn't always a bad thing.

“There's no question that if there's a consequence to not doing things right, it sometimes brings about change and that consequence has certainly brought about a humongous change for the NFL."

Chris Nowinski, a former WWE wrestler turned neuroscientist and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, with whom former England star James Graham has linked up, also believes the 'science has changed' argument can be challenged.

He said: “I looked and read literature and frankly we've known about this for about 100 years.

“We've found minutes from college football meetings in the 1930s, where they're arguing don't put players back in when they've had a concussion.”

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