real life

"I am rethinking my children's involvement in weekend sport."

Is sport worth the risk?

As Australia struggles to deal with the news that Phillip Hughes has tragically passed away, questions are once again being asked about whether the risks attached to sport are justified. And whether we should continue to let our kids play weekend sport.

Phillip Hughes was taken from the world too soon, he passed away on Thursday afternoon in the intensive care unit of St. Vincent’s Hospital after being hit in the head by a ball during South Australia’s Sheffield Match on Tuesday.

Like the rest of the country, I prayed for good news and I desperately wished that the relief and comfort his family needed would come. Sadly it didn’t. The severity of the brain injury was such that Phillip could not survive without medical equipment and he never regained consciousness.

For me, any activity that increases the risk of a head or neck injury occurring, such as high contact sports, is simply out of the question.

I can’t ban my kids from participating in sport altogether, and I wouldn’t want to. I appreciate that involvement in sporting activities provides a great platform for friendships, socialisation, learning and working as a team. I want my kids to be part of the triumphant side occasionally, celebrating the achievements of teammates. And I want them to learn the important lesson of losing gracefully when it’s someones else’s turn for the limelight.

I can’t wrap them up in cotton wool and hope nothing bad will ever happen, but I can prevent them from becoming involved in something with such dangerous consequences.

Rugby players often report being intentionally hurt during a scrum.

What happened to Phillip Hughes was a freak accident, something no one could have predicted. Cricket has it's risks, but it's not a high impact game compared to other sports like rugby. For Phillip, it was simply the angle of the ball which hit him under the helmet. A tragic, freak accident that was in no way foreseeable.

The potential for injuries occurring during a rugby match is plainly obvious though, almost expected. In my mind, the benefits of participating in this sport do not outweigh the huge risks players take when walking onto the field.

According to Peter Milburn, Professor of the School of Allied Health Services at Griffin University, "The risk of sustaining an injury in rugby league that requires medical treatment is about 40 injuries per 1,000 playing hours and most recent data shows head and neck injuries occur most frequently."

Rugby is a game where players are encouraged, expected even, to physically injure one another. The National Rugby League still allows dangerous high tackles. Coaches support hard-hitting blows to opponents. Teammates cheer on collisions, and at children's games, parents stand at the sideline and scream at their child to "tackle, tackle, tackle!"

Every weekend, hospital emergency rooms are filled with injured school-aged rugby players. Broken cheekbones, noses, arms and ribs. Bruises and cuts. Appearing at school on Monday with a black eye from weekend rugby equals cred to teenage boys.


Fifty nine students have died or been permanently impaired while participating in school sport since 1984. According to a study by Monash University's Caroline Finch, over 90 percent of school sport injuries could have been avoided or prevented.

Hospital Emergency Rooms are filled with sporting injuries.

Peter Milburn agrees: "Junior players see experienced players making illegal tackles with impunity and believe this manner of tackling is an acceptable part of the game. Unfortunately, their junior opponents may not anticipate or expect this form of tackle or have the neck strength of senior players."

In 1996, Ben Robertson was on the receiving end of a regulation tackle during a school rugby game in Mosman, Sydney. As bodies piled on top of him, his legs were forced over his head and his spine was crushed. He was paralysed immediately.

His parents stood on the sidelines.

"I woke up staring at the sky. My ears were ringing and I knew instantly what had happened because I couldn't move," Ben told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Ben is now a quadriplegic. He relies on full-time carers to get him get out of bed, shower and dress him. His morning routine take two-and-a-half hours.

Curtis Landers had his neck broken after a tackle during a school rugby game on the Central Coast this year.


The 15-year-old suffered fractures to his C4 and c5 vertebrate and has spent a huge amount of time recovering in hospital.

He has only just learned to breathe, swallow and talk by himself again and doctors expect his recovery to be slow.

For reasons I can't understand, rugby has a special place in the hearts of many Australians and to each their own, but as a mother I cannot stand on the sidelines of a football field every Saturday, hoping that today is not the day my child is on the receiving end of a tackle gone wrong.

I can't control what happens on a rugby field, so my way of preventing these injuries is to ban my kids from being involved.

But for now, Australia needs to mourn the loss of a great sportsman. A man of incredible talent. We need to support Sean Abbott, who is in no way to blame for the horrible accident. I give my deepest condolences to Phillip's family, friends and teammates in such a difficult time.

Do you feel comfortable with your kids playing weekend sport?

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