Steve Thompson, who won the Rugby World Cup with England in 2003, has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and is joining a group of former players in a potentially landmark legal action for the sport. The 42-year-old says he cannot remember winning the World Cup, that he regrets taking up rugby and that he would not want his own children to play the sport “the way it is at the moment”.
Thompson says he “does not want to kill the game” he still loves, but that he hopes this legal case will transform rugby so players are protected. The players are taking the case against the rugby authorities, claiming they were owed a duty of care given that evidence about the dangers of the sport was emerging during their careers. All eight of the players are under the age of 45 and all of them have received the same diagnosis – dementia with probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy, for which the only known cause is repeated blows to the head.
Richard Boardman, the lawyer representing the players, says there is a “ticking timebomb” of players who are developing symptoms as they reach their 40s and 50s. Boardman is already in touch with more than 100 players from union and league who are reporting symptoms.
Rugby union has become more physically demanding since it turned professional in the mid-1990s. Players are fitter, stronger and train harder and for longer than before. Their increased athleticism has led to more tackling and more rucking, which has put their bodies under more pressure.
Thompson has panic attacks, is prone to mood swings, is far less sociable than he once was, and sometimes cannot remember the name of his wife. He believes there is a link between rugby and dementia.
We want to know how you feel about the sport’s relationship with dementia. Are you a former player who now feels the effect of the game? Do you have second thoughts about playing rugby now? Are you concerned about your relatives or friends competing in the sport? Will it change how you feel as a supporter?
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