World Cup winner Steve Thompson to donate brain for research amid RFU lawsuit

Former England international Steve Thompson has confirmed he'll become the first athlete to pledge his brain to the Concussion Legacy Project in an effort to aid scientists researching head trauma injuries.

Thompson—who cannot remember playing in England's 2003 Rugby World Cup final win over Australia —revealed last year that he had been diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of 42.

He is part of a group of players currently suing the Rugby Football Union for negligence following a career that came part and parcel with frequent head injuries at games and in training.

The Concussion Legacy Project, an initiative run by the Jeff Astle Foundation, will research chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—a condition caused by repeated blows to the head, which can only be diagnosed after death—and other related injuries.

"I'm pledging my brain so the children of the people I love don't have to go through what I have gone through," Thompson said.

"It's up to my generation to pledge our brains so researchers can develop better treatments and ways to make the game safer."

Named after the former West Bromwich Albion player who died as a result of CTE in 2002, the Jeff Astle Foundation aims to raise awareness regarding the possible brain damage that can occur in sport.

Astle's daughter, Dawn, co-founded the initiative and said she hoped Thompson's pledge would be the first of many: "Brain donation is the most valuable gift of all for future generations of footballers.

"It may be many years before this jigsaw is complete, but by adding each piece, one at a time, it is the only way we shall understand the true picture and so be able to make a better future for others.

"The Jeff Astle Foundation encourages families of athletes and veterans to donate the brain of their loved one to the Concussion Legacy Project."

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News of Thompson's donation comes after World Rugby announced new guidelines recommending elite teams expose players to a maximum of 15 minutes full contact training per week.

A global study involving almost 600 players from 18 men's and women's teams found that 35 to 40 per cent of injuries were suffered in training, where soft tissue damage was the most common complaint.

Thompson played almost 200 times for Premiership outfit Northampton Saints, earning 73 caps for the Red Rose before hanging up his boots in 2011.

Barely a decade on from his retirement, Thompson should be able to look back on his career with pride, having also played three Tests for the British and Irish Lions in 2005.

But he previously said he has "no recollection" of being in Australia for the tournament, more recently telling Sky Sports News there are other patches of his playing days missing: "When the diagnosis first came out it was about not remembering the World Cup, but we've had a Lions tour since then, which upset me at times because with social media you start seeing players' shirt presentations before Tests.

"I thought, 'I must have done that', but I can't remember if I did or didn't do it. It's just not there.

"The way they explained it to me, your head is a camera and you just don't have a memory card. It's there, but you're just not recording it. That's what happened in that period of time when my brain would have been inflamed from the injuries."

A group of 4,500 American football players successfully sued the NFL in a settlement worth around $1billion (£750m) in 2013, citing links between a career in the sport and CTE symptoms.

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