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Rugby players back dementia campaign

shane willliams
shane willliams Image credit:

A group of fifty ex-professional rugby players have backed a new campaign in the bid to fight Alzheimers including Shane Williams (pictured above) and Ben Kay.

The PREVENT:RFC project forms part of the Sport United Against Dementia initiative supported by 50 former sport players.

"If there's anything I can do to make the game safer for the players that are still playing the game then of course I'm all for that, for a number of reasons really," Williams told Sky Sports News.

"It's a game that I love and I don't want people to think that this is a witch hunt and that I want this game banned or any other physical game banned really. It's something I did for a long time, I love and really enjoyed.

"For me, it's more about educating, educating myself about the risks, educating the players that I played with and are still playing, and of course my children - my son plays rugby.

"If me being involved in the research makes the game safer and helps prevent people from hopefully getting dementia and Alzheimer's, then I'm all for that of course."

In 2020 Williams fronted a documentary about his personal experiences when he suffered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which he found “daunting” and “scary”.

"I'd encourage players to come forward, of all ages as well, from all genres of the rugby world," Williams said.

"The reason I did a documentary about a year ago now… was because I wanted to know more about it, I think a lot of people would want to know more about it, especially players that have played the sport and were in the dark when we were playing.

"We knew nothing about CTE and concussion and brain injuries playing, we just did it for the love of the game and we took that risk. Now that we're finding out that there is connections, if these people know more about what prevents people getting injured, or hopefully helps prevent dementia in the end then, the more people that get involved the better."

Former England hooker Steve Thompson and ex-Wales international Alix Popham, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia, are exploring legal action for alleged negligence against rugby authorities.

Kay said: "It was really important to me as a rugby player to take part in this study. There has been a lot of media coverage around this topic lately and as a result, I know lots of players are worried about their dementia risk.

"Hopefully, by doing this research now, we can get a better understanding of this issue and make a real difference for the future."

Football players have also raised concerns about the illness, in 2017 England captain Alan Shearer presented ‘Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me’ for the BBC.

Shearer said: "I've been following the sport and dementia conversation for years now - and there's still more I want to learn about the science behind the stories in the news.

"I know the risk of dementia is something that worries many players, so work directed to understanding the earliest stage of dementia is incredibly important, and this study in rugby players will add to our understanding of that in sport."

The PREVENT research project will carry out physical health checks, memory assessments, lifestyle questionnaires, brain scans and sample collections on 700 volunteers across a two-year period.

It is expected the number of people living with dementia in the UK will rise to one million before 2025.