Steve Thompson: World Cup winner claims rugby is ‘flogging the players until they literally fall apart’

The former England international, who has early onset dementia, says he cannot remember playing in the 2003 World Cup final

Jamie Braidwood
Wednesday 17 April 2024 11:52 BST
Steve Thompson has been diagnosed with early onset dementia
Steve Thompson has been diagnosed with early onset dementia (PA Archive)

Former England player and World Cup winner Steve Thompson believes rugby is “flogging the players until they literally fall apart” amid plans to introduce a new Club World Cup tournament in 2028.

Thompson, 45, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2020 and has previously said he cannot remember playing in England’s World Cup final win over Australia in 2003 or being awarded an MBE by the Queen afterwards.

The former front-row is one of more than 200 retired rugby players named in a legal claim against three of the sport’s governing bodies, including World Rugby and the Rugby Football Union, alleging they suffered brain injuries during their careers.

In an appearance on Good Morning Britain on Wednesday, Thompson said rugby is “not a safe sport” to play and believes there is not enough being done to look after player welfare. World Rugby maintains player welfare “is and will continue to be rugby’s top priority”.

Reports of rugby union’s first Club World Cup surfaced earlier this month, with the tournament featuring club teams from both hemispheres set to be played every four years from 2028 and at the end of seasons following the Rugby World Cup.

If approved, the tournament would be played in June and existing competitions - such as the English Premiership and Champions Cup - would need to be completed before then and changes to the rugby calendar would be required.

Last year, Thompson became the first sportsperson to pledge their brain for research into the consequences of brain trauma, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy [CTE], a disorder that is caused by repeated brain injuries.

“When it comes to the CTE aspect and the repetitive head injuries, it’s coming from the training as well,” Thompson said on GMB. “[World Rugby] says it’s our number one priority looking after the players, they’re just about to put in another world tournament for clubs.

“Players are going to be playing all year round, they’re training all year round. And that’s where [CTE] happens, in training. In American Football, [the season] is three to four months and then they are resting.

“That doesn’t happen in rugby. And that’s the problem. They’re just flogging the players until they literally fall apart.”

The proposed Club World Cup has not been designed by World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, while rugby’s next global calendar, due to be start from 2026, has been drawn up with mandatory breaks for players in between tournaments.

Meanwhile, England’s players wore smart mouthguards designed to detect heavy collisions and possible concussions during this year’s Six Nations. The mouthguards have been incorporated into the existing HIA protocols as another tool designed to support the drive towards better player welfare with a particular focus on brain injuries.

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