A group of ex-international rugby players is suing the sport’s governing body - here’s why

Eight former rugby players are in the process of submitting a legal claim against rugby’s authorities for negligence, after the sport left them with permanent brain damage.

Rugby World Cup winner, Steve Thompson, is among the group, and every member of the group has recently been diagnosed with the early signs of dementia.

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In a legal move that is the first of its kind in world rugby, the group will send a letter of claim to the governing bodies of English and Welsh rugby and World Rugby.

Why are they suing?

The group of players are claiming each rugby body failed to put in place sufficient rules to deal with the threat posed to players from repeated concussive injuries. The group’s legal representation has warned that there is a “ticking time bomb” of hundreds of players who may be developing symptoms of early-onset dementia.

The claims amount to millions of pounds in damages, and if the lawsuit is successful, it could change the way the game is played.

In 2013, the National Football League (NFL) in the US agreed to a $765 million settlement in 2013, after 4,500 former players sued the league, accusing it of concealing the damages of concussions.

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World Cup winner can’t remember victory

Former England hooker Steve Thompson revealed that he has no memory of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Thompson was part of the England side that went on to lift the trophy in Australia.

Last month he received his diagnosis of early-onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

He said, “It's like I'm watching the game with England playing and I can see me there - but I wasn't there, because it's not me.

"It's just bizarre. People talk about stories, and since the World Cup I've talked to the lads that were there, and you pick up stories, and then you can talk about it, but it's not me being there, it's not me doing it, because it's just gone."

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Thompson opened up about feeling depressed because of the injuries, and said he was not looking for rugby to be stopped.

He added, “The whole point of us doing this is to look after the young players coming through. I don't want rugby to stop. It's been able to give us so much, but we just want to make it safer. It can finish so quickly, and suddenly you've got your whole life in front of you."

What is CTE?

All eight rugby players who have come forward were diagnosed by neurologists at King’s College, London, with early onset dementia and probable Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a brain disease discovered by Dr Bennet Omalu in American football player Mike Webster. CTE can develop when the brain is subjected to numerous small blows or rapid movements, and is associated with symptoms like memory loss, progressive depression and memory loss.

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Dr Bennet Omalu’s discovery was the subject of the 2015 film, Concussion, starring Will Smith.

What have the rugby bodies said in response?

The sports global governing body, World Rugby, told BBC Sport, “While not commenting on speculation, World Rugby takes player safety very seriously and implements injury-prevention strategies based on the latest available knowledge, research and evidence."

The Rugby Football Union (RFU), which runs the sport in England, said, "The RFU has had no legal approach on this matter. The Union takes player safety very seriously and implements injury prevention and injury treatment strategies based on the latest research and evidence.

"The Union has played an instrumental role in establishing injury surveillance, concussion education and assessment, collaborating on research as well as supporting law changes and law application to ensure proactive management of player welfare."