The executive director of the organization governing high school sports across British Columbia does not foresee a ban on rugby in the immediate future.
“We see strong participation, because it’s a big part of our sporting culture in this province,” said Jordan Abney, executive director of B.C. School Sports (BCSS).
He made those comments after what what was likely an unprecedented flurry of moves in Nova Scotia, where Friday the provincial government reinstated rugby as a high school sport mere hours after the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation had cancelled high school rugby games at public schools because of safety concerns. This initial ban prompted outrage from players, parents and the medical community in leading to the eventual reversal.
Abney, who expressed surprise at the initial decision, said nobody knows at this stage what medical research will say 20 years from now. But a ban is currently not under discussion, he said.
BCSS will continue to work with its rugby partners in an on-going effort to enhance safety for the 4,500-plus student athletes, who currently play at 104 provincial schools across 178 teams. A total 70,000 student athletes currently play 19 sports across British Columbia, with a total of 94,000 registered players, accounting for students playing multiple sports.
While activities carry risks, available research shows the benefits of playing high schools sports including rugby outweigh those risks, said Abney.
All rugby high school coaches must complete course work on rugby fundamentals and helps them to recognize and manage concussions, he said. Athletes also face playing time restrictions to prevent injuries, he added.
Questions about the status of the game at provincial high schools following the back-and-forth in Nova Scotia have come just days after the BCSS agreed to introduce rugby sevens, a faster version of traditional rugby played with 15 players aside, to the school sports program on a trial basis.
In short, rugby’s footprint in the local sporting culture is expanding, not shrinking.
Abney said BCSS will continue to monitor developments in working with medical experts and others to ensure and enhance the safety of players.
“But there is no indication that it [rugby] won’t be part of the high school program,” he said.