University of Calgary and Rugby Canada partner to Conduct World-Leading Concussion Research

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Researchers from the University of Calgary’s Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre will receive $500,000 of funding from World Rugby to lead major three-year study.

The SHRed Concussions team, from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology’s Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre (SIPRC), in partnership with Rugby Canada, are set to receive significant research funding from rugby’s global governing body, World Rugby.

On March 23, 2022, World Rugby announced that the SHRed Concussions research team from UCalgary’s SIPRC, chaired by Dr. Carolyn Emery, will receive around $500,000 to support the ongoing research focused on rugby-related concussions and all injuries. Postdoctoral scholar Dr. Stephen West and PhD candidate Isla Shill will lead this multi-site study in Canada and the United Kingdom focused on the prevention of concussions and injuries in female youth rugby.


This grant comes after World Rugby doubled its research investment commitment in 2021 to ensure rugby is safe for all players and reflects their priority of injury and concussion prevention in female rugby. The new funding from World Rugby will be in addition to the $12 million SIPRC has already received from the National Football League’s “Play Smart. Play Safe” program to conduct research into concussion in youth sport across multiple high-risk sports.

The main function of this research will involve implementation of injury and concussion surveillance and video-analysis to examine effectiveness of different injury prevention strategies, such as a rugby-specific neuromuscular training warm-up program aimed to reduce concussions and all injuries.

The research will begin in July 2022, taking place in four separate locations across Canada including Calgary, Winnipeg, Quebec City and Vancouver. Additional data will also be drawn from Bath and Leeds study sites in the United Kingdom which will be led by Professor Keith Stokes, Centre for Health, Injury and Illness Prevention in Sport,

University of Bath, in collaboration with Professor Ben Jones, Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University.

Further research will include a total review of the tackle area, how tackle training can reduce concussions and other injuries, the effectiveness of the Tackle Smart program, and injury trends across age groups and levels of play. It will also help inform Rugby Canada regarding at what age and level of experience it is appropriate to introduce kids to tackling in games.

“It is very exciting to see Dr. Stephen West and Isla Shill leading this important research in partnership with Rugby Canada, to make the game safer for youth female players internationally” says Dr. Carolyn Emery. “The participation rates in female youth rugby are increasing in Canada and this research is filling a significant gap in the field examining concussion and injury prevention strategies in the female youth game.”

The long-time collaboration between Rugby Canada and the University of Calgary SIPRC provided a good foundation to lead this project. This was especially the case given their track record for research and knowledge translation successes which have significant potential for impact in reducing the burden of concussion and injury in youth players.

Rugby Canada began working with the SIPRC and the SHRed team in 2018 when they implemented concussion and injury surveillance in high school girls’ rugby in Calgary. This prominent new grant will see the long and successful relationship between the two parties continue to flourish.

“Rugby Canada has a great relationship with Dr. Carolyn Emery and the University of Calgary,” said Paul Hunter, Senior Director of Community Rugby and Development for Rugby Canada. “We have worked together to advance our knowledge and understanding of concussion related injuries in rugby across Canada. It is important that the decisions made to better our game and create safe spaces for everyone is evidence informed.”

This world-leading initiative aligns with the other ongoing projects Rugby Canada are involved in relating to concussion management and injury prevention. Currently, coaches are mandated to complete World Rugby Concussion Management for the General Public, World Rugby Rugby Ready. Match Officials are mandated to complete World Rugby Concussion Management for the General Public, World Rugby Rugby Ready and World Rugby Laws of the Game. Law changes were made to rugby in Canada to create

safer environments around the tackle and concussion prevention. Rugby Canada also launched “Rugby Canada PlaySmart” in 2016, a player welfare program that aims to educate players, parents, coaches, match officials and administrators on the safety of rugby across Canada.

Research conducted out of the University of Toronto pertaining to the “Blue Card” will continue. Moving forwards, the “Blue Card” concussion management program will allow a match official to remove a player from the game who he suspects has suffered significant contact to the head. The concept is currently being evaluated by Rugby Ontario during the 2022 season.

The benefits of activity, teamwork, and life experience individuals gain from participating in youth sport have tremendous benefits across the lifespan. The research that will conducted by the SHRed Concussions team at University of Calgary’s SIPRC supports Rugby Canada’s philosophy regarding its responsibility to continue research around injury prevention, management, and awareness. Provincial Unions, clubs, and the wider rugby community in Canada will only benefit from this world-leading research that will be conducted on Canadian soil.