Questions about the safety of rugby have been reawakened by the tragic death of Aberdeen Shikoyi, captain of Kenya’s ladies team.
Shikoyi passed away Saturday night, a week after being injured in the first leg of the ladies Elgon Cup, which Uganda won 15-6 at Kyadondo Rugby club. The Kenyan skipper was stretchered off in the second half following a crunching if not unusual tackle from a bigger Ugandan opponent that subsequently left Shikoyi in the middle of a scrum.
Medical reports indicate Shikoyi died of spinal damage after surgery at Kenya’s ICU hospital failed to save her.
To the tightly-neat East African rugby fraternity, Shikoyi’s death will be a major blow. To the untrained eye, it will be more evidence about the dangers of the sport. Confirmation that the game is not merely a collision sport but a dangerous one.
Uganda team doctor Leonard Were refutes the description of the game as dangerous, stressing that Shikoyi’s death was rare tragedy.
“I cannot say rugby is dangerous sport,” said Were, who has witnessed the physical demands of the game from his playing days.
Were conceded that “our bodies are not metals” but added that “what happened to the Kenyan captain was very unfortunate.
“I played rugby from 1992 to 2002 and I have been a rugby doctor for the last six years but I can’t recall a player dying because of a tackle,” added Were, who works for the International Medical Group.
Doubts about the safety of rugby are as old as the game but studies have consistently suggested it is no more dangerous than other contact sports. An investigation by the English rugby union released early this year, titled the 2010-11 England Rugby Injury and Training audit, reached the same conclusion.
“Despite the perception that players are bigger, faster and stronger, there isn’t any evidence that the injury rate has increased in professional rugby since 2002,” said the report.
The report also found that approximately half of all injuries occur in tackles. The next most common cause is running and then the ruck.
Still, rugby’s overly-physical nature dictates the risk of serious injury is ever present and as in Shikoyi’s story, serious injury can lead to a fatal outcome.