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'No time to hide' over rugby head injuries, says RFU chief Sweeney

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London (AFP)

Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney said on Friday it was "not a time to hide" as a group of ex-professionals prepared to launch claims for negligence over head injuries.

England World Cup winner Steve Thompson is one of a number of former players planning legal action against global governing body World Rugby, England's RFU and the Welsh Rugby Union for negligence.

Chief executive Sweeney said the RFU had not yet received any legal contact over the issue, adding nobody at the organisation had yet managed to speak to Thompson.

The former England hooker is one of a number of ex-players suffering early-onset dementia symptoms in their early 40s and has no recollection of winning the World Cup in 2003.

Former England flanker Michael Lipman and ex-Wales back-rower Alix Popham are two of the other players.

Sweeney said it had been a challenging week but it was primarily a "human story".

"We recognise what's happening here, we recognise the difficulties the families are going through and then bringing these stories into the public," he said.

"We applaud them for doing that and also in the context of how they've stated their motivation here is really to improve the game and make it better and safer for future generations."

"It's impossible not to be moved by it," he added. "If you're not moved by this then frankly you probably shouldn't be in the game.

"It's also important I think, to state that it's also not a time to hide and it's not a time to go missing and it's really a time to be open and transparent."

Sweeney said the RFU took player welfare seriously and was recognised as being a leader in the field of concussion awareness and education.

He said there were strict safety protocols in place across the game, adding the area the RFU was really focused on was prevention.

"How do you prevent concussion occurring," he said. "A lot of that is around laws and the implementation of laws and how we apply that to make sure we have the safest possible game we have, recognising that rugby is a physical contact sport."

He pointed to the success of the high-tackle sanction framework in reducing injuries at last year's World Cup in Japan.

"This is not a project that has a start date and a finish date," he said. "This is something that we know we have to continually work on as players get fitter, stronger, find ways to adapt to and operate with that rule framework."

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