EXCLUSIVE: Rugby League in the dock: 10 former players hit by brain injuries – including legend Bobbie Goulding – are suing the governing body for neglect
- Bobbie Goulding is one of 10 former rugby league stars suing the RFL for neglect
- The 10 stars are suffering from brain injuries and say the RFL could have helped
- Goulding has been diagnosed with probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy
- This is the first time British league stars have been diagnosed with the disease
Rugby League legend Bobbie Goulding is one of 10 former players suing the Rugby Football League for negligence over their failure to protect them from brain injuries caused by concussion, Sportsmail can reveal.
The former Great Britain scrum-half, who won four Challenge Cups and the Super League title during a stellar career with Wigan, Leeds and St Helens, was diagnosed with early onset dementia last month at the age of 49.
Goulding has also been diagnosed with probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease found in many former athletes with a history of repeated head injuries. Fellow former rugby league internationals Jason Roach, Mickii Edwards and Ryan MacDonald are suffering from the same disease.
Bobbie Goulding is one of 10 former rugby league players suing the RFL for negligence
Goulding says the league failed to protect them from brain injuries caused by concussion
A 2020 study conducted by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre found evidence of CTE in two unnamed former professional players, but this is the first time British rugby league stars have been diagnosed with the disease.
The RFL have been notified of the impending legal action and proceedings are expected to begin later this year, with more claims likely to follow. The players’ lawyer, Richard Boardman of Rylands Law, is representing another 50 former rugby league players with suspected dementia symptoms in the process of being formally diagnosed.
‘We were let down and as professional players we deserved better,’ Goulding told Sportsmail. ‘What happened in rugby league when I was playing wouldn’t happen in any other professional sport. I was one of the best paid players in Super League but still didn’t get the right care. It was amateur.
Goulding says him and other players have been let down by the league and deserve better
‘In your playing career you accept the knocks, the bumps, the broken legs, the knocked-out teeth. You expect that. What you don’t expect is 10 years after you finished to have bigger repercussions. I feel a bit cheated to be honest.’
The rugby league case follows a similar legal action by a group of former international rugby union players last year, including England World Cup winner Steve Thompson.
Nine players have sent letters of claim to World Rugby, the RFU and the Welsh Rugby Union and a further 140 are considering similar action.
As in the union case, the former rugby league players are motivated by ensuring better care is put in place for subsequent generations as well as securing funding for treatment for retired players suffering from brain damage — who could number several hundred.
Younger players such as Stevie Ward (middle) have discussed the brain damage they suffered
Younger players such as dual code star Sam Burgess and former Leeds captain Stevie Ward have spoken publicly about the brain damage they have suffered, although they have yet to be formally diagnosed with early onset dementia.
‘The RFL takes player safety and welfare extremely seriously and has been saddened to hear about some of the former players’ difficulties,’ said an RFL spokesman. ‘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, the sport of rugby league continues to improve and develop its approach to concussion, head injury assessment, education, management and prevention.’