Rugby: the startling evidence behind Britain's hidden drugs craze

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The Independent Online
Dangerously Addictive Activities: A New Health Series

No 1: Playing rugby.

Is rugby bad for you?

Well, of course it is, but only in the way that all sport is, ultimately, bad for you. Or is playing rugby bad for you in a special way?

Science is now coming to believe that there is something particularly dangerous about rugby, and that it - more than any other game - is addictive, and can lead to seriously disturbed behaviour.

Consider the evidence.

Rugby players will always tell you that rugby is good for you, that it makes you fit. The evidence, of course, shows the exact opposite - that rugby causes you all sorts of horrific injuries which leave you at the end of your career with old broken bones, cauliflower ears, a damaged brain and so on.

Oh, yes, but that is all part of life, say rugby players. You can break a bone doing anything. When you are not injured, you are as fit as can be.

When you are not injured ...

In fact, rugby players are not uninjured very often. They almost always have niggling strains and hamstring worries. Some players are on the injured list as much as the team list. When they are playing, they feel really well and forget their injuries, but this is because they get a buzz from the game which gives them a lift.

Get a buzz ... Gives them a lift ...

Very reminiscent of the world of drugs, is it not?

And scientists are now coming to believe that rugby is a mildly hallucinatory activity, which gives people a high and a heightened sense of reality.

Or do we mean a distorted sense of reality?

Consider the facts.

For 80 minutes 30 grown men run up and down a muddy field convinced that:

a) an oval ball is a sensible shape;

b) it is good to throw a ball backwards but bad to throw it forwards;

c) it is normal to put your arms round other men and insert your head between their buttocks, then push as hard as possible;

d) it is good fun to risk having your teeth knocked out by clasping running men round the knees ...

These are just a few of the things which a rugby player believes during a game, though he does not believe or do any of them at any other time.

It stands to reason that his grasp of reality is skewed.

The average rugby player will also pretend to understand and obey a series of regulations which make no sense to anyone else. Recently, the RFU has been adding rules about "coming in from the wrong side" and "not releasing the ball" and "going over the top" which are virtually impossible to work out in cold blood, let alone in an active game.

Yet the average player never disputes these rules, so fuddled is he by the effect the game has on him. When he has the ball in his arms, and is tackled, and finds himself lying pinioned under 10 or 12 heavy men, and then hears the referee penalising him for not releasing the ball (which is physically impossible), the sensible reaction would be, if not to punch the ref on the nose, at least dispute the sense of it.

The rugby player takes it like a lamb.

Such suppression is dangerous, and may explain the bouts of violence which erupt during games, and very often after the game. Luckily, rugby players' vision must be affected by the game as well, as they scarcely ever land an effective punch, but it is undeniable that such socially destructive behaviour is caused by the game itself. If this fighting were not caused by rugby, it would also sometimes break out before the game as well. But it never does!

Take into account these other factors which spring from the dependent state to which rugby reduces its addicts:

1) Players generally refuse to wear protective clothing, even though they know they will be injured sooner or later.

2) So anxious are they to get the "buzz" associated with the game that many players go on playing until late in life, well after the age at which it would be sensible to give it up.

3) They persist in saying that the game will make a man out of you, even though the evidence suggests that it will make a cripple out of you.

4) Do you really think a grown man would run at full speed at a pile of other grown men in order to push them off the ball even though he knows he cannot do it, if he were not heavily hallucinating?

Next time you feel tempted to play rugby, think of all these things and then say to yourself: "I don't have to if I don't want to. I don't have to hurt myself for the sake of an oval ball. I don't HAVE to believe that it is bad to throw a ball forward."

It could save your life.

Coming next: Is telephoning addictive? Should it be made illegal?