Our say | What’s the future for major contact sports?

WE are entering a very special time of for all sports fans.

The period from mid-August and into September means finals time for winter sports – amateur and professional.

Local Australian rules competitions have already had their junior grand finals, hundreds of young rugby league players will descend on Blayney this weekend for their semis, junior and senior netball competitions are getting to the pointy end of the year and rugby and soccer competitions are also entering the final few weeks.

Add to that a hint of warmer weather as the calendar turns over to September and it's no wonder that many consider this to be the very best time of the year.

But when those young kids run out onto the field this weekend – particularly playing the rugby codes – it’s hard not to wonder just how much longer this will go on.

It seems that every year we see the release of a new report highlighting the potential damage to young (and not so young)  brains that can come from playing contact sports.

And while it’s true most of the damning data so far relates to American football – a sport where not so long ago it was  considered a reasonable tactic to use your head as a battering ram – rugby league and rugby union officials are also taking note.

So, too, are mums and dads up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia.

Most of the young heads playing finals football this weekend will be protected by a headgear but sometimes that is not enough.

Professional sporting bodies have introduced strict concussion codes that deal with players who suffer head knocks during games but it is much harder to police at the amateur and junior levels.

Of course, accidents can happen in any sport in a flying cricket ball or hockey ball can do as much damage as a heavy tackle.

But the question that parents are increasingly trying to answer is just how do they weigh the potential risks of a sport against the undoubted benefits that come from being active and part of a team?

And while serious head injuries remain uncommon, how can we really know what the long-term future might hold?

It’s hard to imagine a future Australia without the rugby codes and our nation would be so much the poorer if the unthinkable was ever to happen.

But as much change as there has been so far to protect young players, we can be sure there is much more to come.

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