Rugby’s authorities have been heavily criticised for failing to sanction Northampton for their handling of the latest concussion episode to mar George North’s career.
Saints’ Wales winger was returned to play despite appearing to have been knocked unconscious during a league match against Leicester on Dec. 3, but a panel set up to investigate opted against recommending disciplinary action.
Northampton expect George North to be cleared by specialists to return to action in Friday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Sale Sharks.
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The joint Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby review concluded that while there was “sufficient evidence” to end North’s involvement in the match, the club did not “intentionally ignore the player’s best interests”.
The Rugby Players Association (RPA) claimed the review’s findings showed a “breakdown in procedure”, and the fact North returned to play was a “significant failing”, adding that it would have preferred disciplinary action to have been taken.
“While we feel that sanctions would have sent a clear message about the gravity of concussion mismanagement, we welcome the recommendations outlined in the report,” an RPA statement read.
Peter McCabe, the chief executive of Brain injury charity Headway, said: “We are concerned with these findings. Serious questions have to be asked regarding the protocols: are they fit for purpose and are they being properly enforced?”
Ian Christian, an expert sports injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who worked with the RPA in developing their concussion protocols, said: “It’s hugely disappointing to see that Northampton have not been held to account for the handling of North’s injury.
“It was a chance to make a statement and remind clubs, players and fans how serious an issue it is. The findings and lack of punishment feel like a backwards step.
“This was an opportunity for the panel to make a statement about concussion and the importance of a safety-first approach and it has been wasted.”
Peter Robinson, whose 14-year-old son Ben died on a rugby field in 2011 after being allowed to play on following a series of concussions, was “absolutely flabbergasted” at the verdict.
“It just stinks of everything that went on with Ben,” he said. “Nobody was held responsible and it was just, ‘Oh well, we’ll learn from it’. But we haven’t learnt from it.
“The talk about player welfare being the most important thing is just words. What does that mean, when you’re allowing a brain-damaged player to carry on playing but no one is held responsible?
“This is not complicated. Take concussed players off the field.”
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Outcry over George North concussion decision
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