The South African rugby community is backing ground-breaking new research that might one day help players in coping with the stresses and emotional pressure of a professional rugby career. The South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) and South African Rugby Legends’ Association (SARLA), in collaboration with the Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine (University of Cape Town), and backed by the South African Rugby Union (SARU), have written to more than 500 former players appealing for their help in new research. The idea is to get a better understanding of the consequences of the physical and mental demands faced by players during their careers, and what effect that has on their health and wellness following retirement.
“Professional rugby is relatively new and we are now beginning to see the impacts on former players who have dedicated a decade or more of their life to the sport and then have to cope with the post-career stresses without any kind of road map or role models. Players can be on top of the world one minute and then have their careers ended seconds later; coping with the emotional and physical demands that entails are complicated – alongside the issue to having to find a new way to make a living. We are appealing to all former players to respond to the emails they will be receiving from SARLA and SARPA to provide us with a database of information that will allow us to understand their retirement world and its challenges,” said Stefan Terblanche, CEO of SARLA. SARPA CEO, Piet Heymans, said, “The results of the study will help us to comprehend the challenges retired players are facing and to review and possibly adjust our assistance provided to players exiting professional rugby. We want to support and promote sustainable health and wellness among professional rugby players, both during and after their careers. We’d very much like ex-professional players’ to support this research as their participation will ensure future players are aware of and are prepared for the challenges when retiring from professional rugby.” The online survey is being run by the Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at UCT in conjunction with FIFPro, the world professional footballers’ association, who have run similar studies with soccer federations around the world.
The project is being supported by SARU’s medical department. “We’re really at ground zero in our understanding of what challenges our rugby players face when they retire from playing. Rugby only turned professional in 1996 so we’re only now reaching the point where the first crop of fully professional players are reaching their 40s and facing life with the legacy of a professional sports career. It’s a few years yet before any of them will be reaching pensionable age but we need to understand the wellness and health challenges along the way so that, in due course, the sport can take a holistic view of their management,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SARU. the results of the survey will be analysed by sports scientists before being published and shared with former players and rugby bodies.