Former Wales rugby star goes to university while working as a carer and gets important new role in sport

138 30/05/2022

Peter Rogers has crystal clear memories from his playing days and for that he counts himself extremely lucky. The former Wales prop is acutely aware of the issues surrounding dementia through his work in social care and the degree he is studying on the subject.

He also has huge empathy for those ex-players who have been diagnosed with early onset dementia, with a number taking legal action against the sport’s governing bodies for failing to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.

Now the 18-times capped Rogers has an important new role to play. He has been appointed ambassador of Love of The Game, a campaign aimed at reducing concussion-related issues across sport. When he looks back on his own career, the ex-London Irish, Newport and Cardiff prop feels so fortunate to be able to do so with absolute clarity. You can read more about his playing days here.

“One of my best memories is running on to the pitch at the Millennium Stadium for the first ever game there against South Africa in 1999,” he says.

“Right at the end of the match, I can remember looking at Ed Morrison and just willing him to blow that final whistle for us to win. I can remember that like it was yesterday. I was going ‘Go on, blow that whistle, please Ed, please blow it.’

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“I can remember jumping on Scott Gibbs’ back when he scored that try against England at Wembley. He was going ‘Get off you big lump!’ I was going ‘No way Gibbsy, you are carrying me’.

“I remember every Welsh anthem I sang. You can’t buy things like that. Some of the fondest memories in my life are from playing rugby and they are crystal clear in my mind. But, unfortunately, some former players don’t have memories of games. That has to bother everyone. Maybe I am one of the lucky guys.

“I have so much empathy for former colleagues and ex-players who have been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Having seen severe dementia at first hand through my job, I do count myself extremely lucky.”

It’s his work as a domiciliary carer for elderly people over the past four years that has ultimately led to Rogers’ involvement with Love of The Game.

Former Wales rugby star goes to university while working as a carer and gets important new role in sport

“I see the challenges that living with dementia throws up. I became fascinated by it and that led to me doing a masters degree in dementia studies at the University of West London. I wanted to expand my knowledge and see what academia is saying about the condition. So I enrolled in this course, self-funding my degree, while still doing 20 hours a week in social care.

“I am loving it and learning so much. Before I started, I thought I knew everything about dementia because when you work with it you think you do. But the science backs up what you see on a daily basis. From being on the course and the media coverage of working as a carer, I was approached by Love of The Game.”

Former England and Lions second row Simon Shaw is president of the campaign, while its chairman is Laurence Geller, a ministerial adviser on concussion in sport.

“It’s a wonderful campaign to be part of,” said Rogers. “What I’m passionate about is prevention. Love of the Game looks at different innovative ways to protect players through technology.

“One of the key issues we are campaigning for is having portable brain scanning technology that can be used at the grounds. It creates an electronic mapping of the brain and gives a clear indication of whether it’s ok to go back on.

“I want the game to survive, without a doubt. It has given me so much over the years and still keeps on giving me pleasure by being able to watch my son play." You can read how Rogers came out of retirement earlier this year to play alongside his son here.

"It’s a wonderful game and it’s about trying to stop it from being under threat and, more than anything, it’s about protecting players. I totally understand the major challenges of taking part in collision sport and the game has made big efforts to reduce head contact.

"But obviously there needs to be more technology and innovation with regards to player welfare. We need much more research to explore the relationship between head collisions and young onset dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and brain trauma.”

The Cardiff-based Rogers, now 53, acknowledges the game has come a long way in terms of player welfare from his own days out on the field.

“There wasn’t really any awareness about the risk of acquiring dementia back then. That was never discussed. The technology wasn’t available.

“But I can tell you there was a poor injury culture. At one of my former clubs, I reported for training having just had an x-ray which showed I had two broken bones in my hand. I refused to play because of my injury and some of my team-mates mocked me and taunted me. One of the coaching management mocked me and laughed and said ‘Oh Peter’s got a little broken fingernail’. I had a genuine fracture of the hand.

“World Rugby states that pro players are only allowed to do 15 minutes of full-on contact training in a week. That’s not the professional rugby I knew back in my day. It was never recorded, but I can tell you it was more than 15 minutes.”

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