'Sad and disturbing week', says RFU chief on concussion cases

RESENDING WITH COMPLETE SCRIPT

VIDEO SHOWS: RFU CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BILL SWEENEY TALKING ABOUT CONCUSSION IN RUGBY AND STEVE THOMPSON SITUATION, STILL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THOMPSON / ENGLAND TRAINING / TWICKENHAM EXTERIORS

SHOWS:

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (FILE) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

1. EXTERIOR OF TWICKENHAM STADIUM

2. STATUE OUTSIDE TWICKENHAM

3. RFU SIGN

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (DECEMBER 12, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

4. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RFU CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BILL SWEENEY, SAYING:

"Because it's been a very sad and very disturbing week for rugby frankly, it is a difficult period. And most of all in, these days when there are legalistic issues and things to deal with, we can't forget that this is very much about a human story, and our thoughts go out to Steve (Thompson) and some of the challenges facing him and also the bravery of him and his family and the other players coming out and and airing their concerns and their worries in public, and we know that must have been a difficult situation for them. And it was clear as well this morning for those of you that read anything from Graham Rowntree that somebody who's close to Steve that this has impacted people. So it has been a tough week for rugby and we expect a lot of conversation around it."

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (FILE - MARCH 22, 2003) (REUTERS PICTURES - ACCESS ALL) (MUTE)

5. STILL PHOTOGRAPH OF STEVE THOMPSON DURING SIX NATIONS MATCH AGAINST SCOTLAND

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (FILE - MARCH 9, 2003) (REUTERS PICTURES - ACCESS ALL) (MUTE)

6. STILL PHOTOGRAPH OF STEVE THOMPSON DURING SIX NATIONS MATCH AGAINST ITALY

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (OCTOBER 17, 2020) (UK POOL - ACCESS ALL)

7. ENGLAND TEAM TRAINING

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (DECEMBER 12, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

8. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RFU CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BILL SWEENEY, SAYING:

"And as usual you can only really focus and control the things you can control. So we can't control now those protocols and those, whatever were sitting in place there, we are really focused on what can we do today, what can we do going forward and how can we make this the safest possible game and then in the best way we possibly can. It is important to stress and point out actually, we haven't received any formal legal approaches yet. So all we are knowledgeable about is what we're reading currently and what we are reading in the media. So we don't have any specific case or specific conditions that have been laid out, so it's a bit premature really and hypothetical to speculate on what's going there and we haven't got into any detailed discussions around insurance or cover because we don't know the nature of what was being presented yet."

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (OCTOBER 17, 2020) (UK POOL - ACCESS ALL)

9. ENGLAND PLAYER GEORGE FORD

10. ENGLAND TEAM TRAINING

STORY: Bill Sweeney, the head of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), said it had been a challenging week in the wake of news that a group of former players are set to take legal action after suffering brain damage they say was the result of concussions.

England's World Cup-winning prop Steve Thompson said this week that he had no memory of the 2003 final and, along with several other former players, held the sport's various governing bodies responsible for their failure to adequately protect the players from long-term mental impairment.

Sweeney said the RFU had yet to receive any details from lawyers representing the players and was evasive when asked if the world's biggest rugby union had insurance in place for such a claim, well aware that in 2016 the NFL settled a $765 million class action from players who suffered brain damage from playing American Football.

Sweeney went to great lengths to outline the progress the sport has made in dealing with concussion, from the implementation of new return to play protocols, changes in the laws to try to lower tackle height and the graduated levels of contact allowed in youth rugby.

Sweeney said he had tried to contact Thompson this week - though his initial attempts had been foiled by having the wrong phone number. "We've tried, that's just to have a chat and see how he's doing," he said.

Sweeney also said that it would take years to bring the RFU's finances back on track after an expected loss of around 135 million pounds-worth ($178.08 million) of revenue this year due to the impact of COVID-19.

(Production: Iain Axon)

Video Transcript

BILL SWEENEY: Because it's been a very sad and very disturbing week for rugby, frankly. It is a difficult period. And most of all, in these days when there are legalistic issues and things to deal with, we can't forget that this is very much about a human story, and our thoughts go out to Steve and some of the challenges he's facing, and also the bravery of him and his family and the other players coming out and airing their concerns and their worries in public, and we know that must have been a difficult situation for them.

And it was clear, as well, this morning for those of you that read anything from Graham Rowntree, somebody who's close to Steve, that this has impacted people. So it's been a tough week for rugby and we expect a lot of conversation around it. But we felt that--

[SHOUTING]

BILL SWEENEY: And as usual, you can only really focus and control the things you can control. So we can't control now that those protocols and those whatever was sitting in place there. We're really focused on what can we do today, what can we do going forward, and how can we make this the safest possible game and protect visitors in the best way we possibly can.

It's important to stress and point out actually, we haven't received any formal legal approaches yet, so all we're knowledgeable about is what we're reading currently and what we're reading in the media. So we don't have any specific case or specific conditions that have been laid out for us. So it's a bit premature, really, and hypothetical to speculate on what's going there, and we haven't got into any detailed discussions around insurance or cover, because we don't know the nature of what's being presented yet.

[LAUGHING]

- Go. Go on boys.

- Come, come.