MPs have launched an inquiry into the connection between sport and long term brain injury.
It follows growing concern that some rugby and football players have suffered conditions such as early-onset dementia.
The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, chaired by Solihull MP Julian Knight, will investigate how the risks can be reduced.
He said: “This inquiry will consider scientific evidence to link sport with the incidence of long-term brain injury.
“We will look particularly at what role national governing bodies should be taking and their responsibilities to understand risks involved for players and what actions might be taken to mitigate them.
“We’re seeing a number of cases involving brain injury in sport likely to reach the doors of our law courts and we will also look at the implications for sport in the longer term of any successful legal claim.”
A study last year found that footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than other people of the same age. The research, known as the Field study, was led by Dr Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at the Queen Elizabeth University hospital, Glasgow.
And Rugby’s top governing bodies are facing a series of lawsuits from former players. They include England World Cup winner Steve Thompson, who is suffering early-onset dementia symptoms.
Former Wales number eight Alix Popham is another suffering from probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Mr Popham, former England rugby international James Haskell and former Canada international Jamie Cudmore are campaigning for sporting bodies to take the issue seriously. They are part of Progressive Rugby, a new lobby group calling for urgent reform in the sport.
In an open letter to World Rugby, the lobby group outlined concerns, along with a suggested plan of action to improve overall safety and protect players.
These proposals include a limit on contact in training, restricting match substitutions to injured players only – to reduce the incidence of fresh players making high impact tackles on tired players – and a guaranteed minimum number of days off between seasons.
They would also include a career ‘health passport’ for players and increased education at all levels regarding head injuries and concussion management.
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The group says an extension of the minimum number of days before a player is allowed to return following concussion should be set at at least three weeks, while a ‘concussion fund’ should be established by World Rugby, and training packages established to teach safe tackling techniques for young players.
Mr Haskell, 35, who played for Wasps and Northampton, believes more must be done at a faster pace to help learn from the past and protect the next generation.
Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “It is a game which I love, a dangerous game, and I have not got concerns at the moment over dementia, it is something I have to monitor, and was lucky during my career to have limited number of concussions.
“But I strongly feel the game needs to change things.”