Lawyers acting for 75 former players will this week launch a legal claim for negligence against the Rugby Football League.
They say the governing body failed “to take reasonable action to protect players from permanent brain injury caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows”.
According to Rylands Legal, many players now suffer from various irreversible neurological impairments, including dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), post-concussion syndrome, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and motor neurone disease.
Francis Maloney, the 49-year-old former England international and Warrington, Oldham, Castleford and Salford back, recently announced he has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE.
It’s the same diagnosis as other former players in the litigation who have spoken out publicly, including ex-Great Britain and England halfback Bobbie Goulding, whose career spanned 25 years.
Rylands Legal also represent 220 players in rugby union as part of a separate but similar potential claim against various governing bodies in that sport.
Richard Boardman, of Rylands Legal, said: “We are seeing the same worrying symptoms in numerous cases across both codes of rugby.
“These symptoms include chronic depression, aggression, significant memory loss, incontinence, drug and alcohol addiction and, in some cases, suicide attempts.
“This claim isn’t just about financial compensation; but also making the game safer and ensuring current and former players get tested so that if they are suffering a brain injury, they can get the clinical help they need.
“We aim to challenge the current perceptions of the governing bodies, to reach a point where they accept the connection between repetitive blows to the head and permanent neurological injury and to take steps to protect players and support those who are injured.”
In a statement to BBC Sport, the RFL said that it “takes player safety and welfare extremely seriously, and it has been desperately sad to hear of any players’ difficulties.”
The statement added: “Rugby League is a contact sport and, while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, player welfare is always of paramount importance.
“As a result of scientific knowledge, Rugby League continues to improve and develop its approach to concussion, head injury assessment, education, management and prevention across the whole game.
“We will continue to use medical evidence and research to reinforce and enhance our approach.
“Support to former professional players is always available from Rugby League’s charity partner RL Cares.”
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