Rugby or Mountaineering?

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Rugby or Mountaineering?

Is it possible to compare the risk on the rugby field to climbing a mountain?

Posted on 25.01.2017

You take a risk every time you run out on the field, hop on your bike, or tie your tramping boots. Overall, the risk of serious injury or death from sport and recreation is extremely low.

But there’s almost always some risk.

At the weekend in the United Kingdom, Hull City footballer Ryan Mason fractured his skull in a sickening head clash with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill in an English Premier League match. In Wellington this month, Bangladesh cricket captain Mushfiqur Rahim was concussed after he ducked into a 135kmh delivery from Tim Southee and the ball struck his helmet.

Defining the world’s sport and recreation in terms of danger levels is not an easy task, mainly because comparing, say, motor sport with tramping, presents problems.

So, there are a few things to consider first. Any team sport with a ball, anything with horses, or water, and any sport involving a vehicle, runs a risk of injury or death. That’s part of the attraction of taking part and playing.

Comprehensive statistics are hard to come by and the data is limited. Governing bodies, understandably, do not go out of their way to publicise injuries and deaths. Participation figures are also hard to come by but figures on injury claims in New Zealand are available through the Accident Compensation Corporation, although these do not tell us how many people play a particular sport.

Auckland University of Technology human performance professor Patria Hume has studied sport injury rates in New Zealand since the 1990s.

“New Zealanders are passionate about sport. Sport has positive health benefits but also some negative injury consequences.

“ACC and national sports organisations make a concerted effort to reduce injuries via programmes. The question is, has the incidence of injuries decreased, and are the same sports still rated in the top ten for injury incidence?”

A study in the New Zealand Journal of Sports Medicine co-authored by Hume explored sport injuries from 1978 to 1987 by tracking injury hospitalisations and found rugby union was at the top. Other sports with a high injury rate were horse riding, football, cricket, netball, rugby league, basketball, and skiing.

“The body sites most frequently injured were the head, face, ankle, trunk/spine, lower leg and knee. The most frequent types of injuries were fractures, sprains/strains, dislocations and contusions.

“The most common events resulting in sports injuries were striking or being struck by objects or persons, falls, and over exertion.”


The “top five” in terms of injury claims were rugby union, football, gym training, netball, and cycling.


Recent Mountain Safety Council research into injury rates in the outdoors provides an eye-opening overview of how recreation can go awry.

Findings challenged common assumptions of who was getting hurt, lost, or killed.

Three-quarters of search and rescues involved Europeans, including European New Zealanders, and 67 per cent of tramping fatalities involved Kiwis.

Mountain Safety Council spokesman Nick Kingstone said injury rates in outdoor pursuits were not studied in depth until the council collated all the available data in a report in 2016, There and Back.

In terms of injury rates, risk, and type of activity – sport or recreation – there was no single source, he said. This was a common problem with big data.

“There really is no single data source. It’s about participation rates. For example, mountaineering is pretty dangerous in terms of injury rates [relative to participation].

“Mountaineering is one of the most risky activities you can do [outdoors]. When you step back and look there’s very little we can do to make it safer. The environment these guys are going into you can only risk manage 70 per cent.

“People take a PLB. It doesn’t make you safer. It makes you easier to find.”




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