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World’s 10 Most Dangerous Team Sports.

In the modern world we, as a global society, enjoy our sports. We watch the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics with bated breath, waiting for the next example of athletic prowess to wow us. These days athletes are meant to conduct themselves with honor and act in a sporting fashion, but it wasn’t always so.

Many of the sports currently enjoying massive followings around the world have their roots in something far more sinister than simple competition, often tracing their lineage back to heated battlefields in the not so distant past. While we may think we’ve escaped our bloody history and moved on to a more civilized age, our sports are still just as dangerous and savage as they have always been; so that we may watch and enjoy.

With that being said, here are the world’s top 10 most dangerous team sports.

Rugby Union

In 1823 a young student named William Webb Ellis was playing a game of football at his school in Rugby, England, when he picked up the ball off the ground and ran with it. From this humble beginning Rugby was born.

In the 21st century there are two main types (or codes) or rugby; Rugby Union and Rugby League. Despite the differences between the two codes, and the almost endless iterations of the game found within the Union fold, the principles remain the same; Run Forward, Pass Backwards, and Tackle below the neck.

While this may not sound terribly dangerous, consider the fact that rugby is a free flowing game where the action moves from end to end of a 100 meter playing field, and where the clock does not stop. What you are left with is a high tempo game which requires vast amounts of stamina and lots of concentration. And when concentration lapses, the results are not pretty:

The sport even has a unique term for placing a team mate in a dangerous situation where injury is likely; “hospital passes” only illustrate the danger of which every rugby player is aware when they step onto the pitch.

Rugby players are likely to suffer a wide array of injuries during their careers. Ranging from severe concussions, to broken bones; the unique pace of the game and the fact that the players wear little, or no artificial protection means that rugby players are among some of the most routinely injured sportsmen on the planet.

American Football

American Football, or Gridiron, can be traced to having its roots in early forms of Rugby and Association Football (Soccer). In the late 19th century Walter Camp formalized the game with the introduction of unique rules, such as the defining the line of scrimmage and the system of downs-and-distance. Once these rules were introduced the game moved away from it’s European predecessors to become something uniquely American, and today can be found all over the world with leagues in Europe and Oceania.

American football’s most defining characteristic is the forward pass, which allows the players (or quarterback) to open up the game and which makes for eminently exciting viewing. These days American Football is more akin to Chess than Rugby, with tactical awareness being imperative for a team to achieve victory. But don’t think that American Football is totally cerebral, as there is plenty of danger involved:

While astute readers will point out that American Football players wear pads, and as such may be limiting their risk of injury, a number of recent studies have revealed that participants in this sport will actually hit harder and faster because of the pads than they would without them. Although there are few bone-on-bone jarring tackles in the course of the average game (due to the helmets and padding) there are plenty of horrific injuries going on in Football leagues throughout the USA.

An American Football player is likely to suffer at least one severe head injury during the course of their playing career. Players will also routinely suffer high levels of ligament damage in their joints, a predisposition for broken bones, and have some of the highest rates of ACL damage among athletes anywhere in the world. However, the dedication that these athletes have means that they often play injured, heightening the danger but further illustrating their toughness.

Ice Hockey

Ice Hockey, like Field Hockey, has its roots in stick-and-ball games played across Europe throughout history. Although stick-and-ball games date back to pre-Christian times in Europe, it was Canada which codified the game of Ice Hockey in the early 1800’s.

Played on Ice, hence the name, the aim of Ice Hockey is to get a puck (the flat, circular object being moved around the rink by the players) into the back of the opposing team’s goal. This may sound simple, but the reality of it is that Ice Hockey is an extremely fast moving game where the puck can reach speeds of up to 104.5 miles per hour, which is played on a slick surface, and where the teams are prone to bloody outbursts of violence.

Big hits, known as “checks” occur frequently throughout most games, and involve players willfully colliding with each other at high speeds in order to gain possession of the puck. Sounds innocent? Don’t believe that for a second:

As can be seen from the video, almost all of the components of Ice Hockey, down to the skates and sticks used by the players, combine to make one dangerous sport. The most frequent type of injury in Ice Hockey is lacerations (cuts) on a player’s hands, face, and head. However, Ice Hockey players also risk injuring their spine, knees, neck, shoulders and hands every time they step out onto the ice.

For the sheer pace of the game, the sharp metal skates players wear, and the large sticks used to control the puck, Ice Hockey is one of the most dangerous games played in the world.

Hurling

Considered by many to be the fastest field team sport, Hurling is a Gaelic game of prehistoric origin. Hurling was codified in 1884 with the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association, and has changed very little in the modern world. It is one of the few sports in on the international stage which can directly trace its origins to the warrior tribes of pre-Christian Europe.

Played on a field up to 145 meters long, with teams comprised of 15 players, the object of the game is to use a wooden stick (hurley) to propel a small ball (sliotar) between the opposition’s goal posts. Making the game interesting is the fact that the ball cannot be carried in the hand for more than four steps before it must be struck by the hurley, either on the ground or in the air. Essentially you have 15 men, armed with clubs, trying to hit a small solid object in the general vicinity of the opposition. If you’re having trouble picturing this take a look at the following video:

Hurling could best be described as “field hockey on steroids”, but even that doesn’t quite convey the brutality of the game. And while the rules have been changed to ensure that all players wear a helmet, having the sliotar hit you, at up to 93 miles per hour, means that you will definitely know about any contact when it happens.

With all those sticks flying about, it should come as no surprise that the most common form of injury in Hurling is bone fractures in a player’s hand. Severe eye injuries from the sport have dramatically decreased since the introduction of a mandatory helmet rule in 2006, but with the prevalence of players modifying their helmets to increase peripheral vision, eye injuries are returning. Generally Hurling players are likely to suffer the same stress injuries as other contact sports; ligament damage, broken bones, spinal damage, and head injuries are all common. But it’s those big sticks which you should be worried about….

Gaelic Football

Gaelic Football, commonly known as GAA, is a type of football (ED: There are quite a few) predominately played in Ireland. One of the four sports administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association, Gaelic Football was formally codified in 1886. However, the game has been in existence since the middle ages and modern GAA is the direct descendant of a form of football called Caid, which was played in Ireland during medieval times.

Played by two teams of 15 members, the aim of GAA is to kick, punch, and carry the ball towards the opposition’s end of the field and get the ball through the goal posts. While the level of tackling, and type of tackle allowed, is more robust than in Association Football (soccer), there are more limitations on what players can do than Rugby. However, don’t let that make you think GAA isn’t tough; Shoulder-to-Shoulder contact is still perfectly legal, and results in some huge hits:

The main type of injury a GAA player will suffer over the course of their career is an ankle sprain. However, due the long playing season, and requirements of the player to train, what starts out as a simple ankle sprain can quickly deteriorate into a much more serious issue.

GAA players are twice as likely to be injured during a game than Soccer players, and three times more likely than a Rugby player to be injured during training. And while simple sprains may be the most common injury, 87% of all senior level players will have received a severe head injury at some point during their career in addition to the myriad of knee, ankle, groin, and hamstring injuries which they are liable to pick up during their playing time (between 70 – 78% of all GAA injuries involve soft tissue damage).

GAA is a game of high endurance and places large amounts of strain on the lower body. While the Gaelic Athletic Association has taken pains to ensure that serious injuries are limited in the sport, the likelihood of a player being injured remains high.

Australian Rules Football

Australia was used as a penal colony by the United Kingdom from 1788 to 1848, and a large portion of the population of the country at that time were criminals under British law. Tough men in a dangerous land, the newly transported convicts required a different kind of sport. Known as Australian Rules, or Footy, the game is the football variant that is most popular in Australia. The core rules for the sport were introduced during 1859 in Melbourne, and the modern laws for the game were formalized in 1990 by the sport’s governing body, the Australian Football League.

Although Australia has a reputation in the modern world as being an extremely friendly country with a laid back attitude, Australian Rules Football still harkens back to the days when the country was a penal colony. The game is played by two teams of 18 men, on an oval pitch that is up to 185 meters long and 155 meters wide. The objective is to kick the oval ball through two sets of uprights at the opposition’s end of the field, with more points being given for kicking the ball through the middle set of posts. Players must bounce the oval ball off the ground every 15 meters while they are in possession, and can only pass to a team mate through a hand pass (punching the ball away) or a kick. While players are not allowed to tackle with their hands, don’t let that make you think there is no contact – shoulder to shoulder impacts are perfectly fine. With no set positions, a massive playing area, and lots of aerial battle going on, the chances of a player being injured is high.

Like Rugby, Australian Football players wear no pads or protection. However, Rugby has banned shoulder only tackles, deeming them to be too dangerous. Footy, on the other hand, has made this type of contact the only legal tackle in the game. What this means is that the average Australian Rules footballer will suffer a number of serious injuries throughout their career, with the most common types of injury being soft tissue damage in the lower body. Injuries to a player’s ankles, knees, and shoulders are all common; Australian Rules footballers have one of the highest rates of knee reconstruction in the athletic world. Serious head injuries are also an issue (most professional players will have at least one serious concussion in their career), although the rate of spinal injuries is lower than in Rugby.

On a side note, Australian Football and Gaelic Football often come together to compete in what is called “International Rules Football”, a hybrid of the two sports. Combining these two sports has lead to plenty of excitement in the two countries involved:

All the dangers of GAA and Footy, with all of the action. It looks good to us.

Kabaddi

What do you call a cross between wrestling and tag, where players must hold their breath? The answer is, of course, Kabaddi, a game played for thousands of years in South-Asia, and which has its roots in ancient military training in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The reason the game has it’s name is due to the fact that this is the word which the players mutter while on the field to prove they are holding their breath (Kabaddi, in Hindu, means “to hold breath”). Incorporating kicks, leg locks, take-downs, stamina, and the ability to hold your breath, Kabaddi may seem like one of the stranger sports on this list, but that doesn’t diminish the danger of injury.

Due to the mix of wrestling and breath holding, there is a high injury rate in Kabaddi. While the injuries may not be as extensive as those from Rugby, there is a high rate of leg, knee, and shoulder issues due to forceful tackles and rough contact. Head injuries are also common, and the low level of medical care available in most of the countries where Kabaddi is popular can contribute to heightening the danger of the sport. In many cases, players who are injured may have to travel extensive lengths of time in order to receive adequate medical treatment.

Lacrosse

A native American game, thought to originate around the 12th century CE, Lacrosse was something of a religious ritual among the Huron and Iroquois tribes. Played on extreme fields which were often miles long and just as wide, Lacrosse was used to heal the sick, train young men for war, and resolve conflicts. Using a netted stick and some form of ball (often made of stone, wood, or leather), the aim of the game is to shoot a ball into the opposition’s goal.

Akin to Ice Hockey on an open field, modern day lacrosse is played in an area 60 yards wide by 110 yards long and is much more formalized than it’s ancestor (players wear pads for one thing, rather than playing bare-chested). Slightly departed from it’s cultural roots Lacrosse, or LAX, still retains much of the brutality and high paced action of it’s earliest incarnation. While the offensive objective is to get the ball into the other team’s net, the defensive objective is to stop this and dispossess the attacking team through stick-checks, body contact, and body positioning.

After watching that clip, it should come as no surprise that Lacrosse is a game with a lot of injuries. The most commonly injured body parts in Lacrosse are ankles, legs, knees and the player’s head. While players wear helmets and pads, head injuries are still common with 11% of all injuries reported falling under this category. In addition to this, the use of the stick to dispossess the opposing team often means lots of high force, direct contact, on player’s wrists – resulting in sprains and fractures.

While Lacrosse has been codified and is now played around the world, there can be no denying that this game still represents it’s original intent, epitomizing all-out-war.

Water Polo

Originating as a test of strength and swimming skill in 19th century Scotland, Water Polo is essentially a mix of Rugby, Net-ball, and long distance Swimming. Making it’s debut in the 1900 Olympics, Water Polo involves two teams of 7 players trying to throw a rubber ball into the opposition’s goal. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that all of the action takes place in a swimming pool, meaning that the ability to swim is a fundamental requirement of playing the game.

Throwing 14 individuals into a pool where full contact is permissible may remind you of childhood games of “chicken”, but there is an inherent danger that all players must face when entering the pool; namely drowning. While incidents of drowning in the sport are not common, they do happen – there was a 2009 report of two Dutch girls attempting to drown one of the players on the opposite team. The incident in question may have been an isolated occurrence, but it cannot be denied that contact sports in an aquatic environment are a risky proposition.

Common injuries in Water Polo include face and head injuries from close contact between players, and from the ball which can often move at up to 45 miles per hour. As is true of all head injuries, what can seem benign on first glance can quickly deteriorate and lead to a life threatening situation. Outside of the usual swimming-related complaints such as swimmers ear (otitis externa), and traumatic perforation of the ear drum, a Water Polo player has a high risk of spine injury as well as severe trauma to the upper body (including dislocated shoulders and broken clavicles).

Like most contact sports, soft tissue damage among the game’s elite is a foregone conclusion. However, adding water and having all the play take place in a pool only serves to heighten the danger of any injury, leading to the sport’s inclusion on this list.

Football (Soccer)

While many readers may quibble with the inclusion of Football in this list, the game has plenty of history (and visual evidence) to lend support to the fact that it can be an extremely dangerous game. Association Football was born out of the same sporting tradition which spawned Rugby. However, during the creation of the Cambridge Rules in 1848, and the subsequent codification of the laws up to modern times, Football diverged with it’s sibling sports to become one of the most popular games in the world, and arguably remains the sport which is most synonymous with the United Kingdom.

With two teams of 11 players, the aim of the game is to get the ball into the opponents goal (ED: surprising how this is the aim of most of the sports here!). Players are not allowed to use their hands or arms to control the ball, but can use their head and feet (hence the name “football”). While not identifiably dangerous at first glance, the fact that football is a high tempo game played over the course of 90 minutes means that vast amounts of concentration are required. As with Rugby, it can be more than a little disturbing when a players concentration lapses:

Double breaks in the leg are a fairly common occurrence in Football, with a litany of high name players suffering some truly horrific injuries. As can be seen from the above video, for a non contact sport, football certainly has a large amount of dangerous contact, whether intentional or not. The common list of injuries in Football include: Medial Ligament rupture, Anterior Cruciate Ligament rupture, Meniscus injuries, Metatarsal fractures, muscle strains and tearing, hernias, and broken bones. This is quite a lengthy list for a sport which ostensibly refrains from player-on-player contact.

While many of the injuries routinely suffered while playing football can be limited through correct warm-up procedures and heightened levels of concentration, even the most dedicated of players can have a lapse in judgment leading to a less than welcome outcome. And if you thought all the action stayed on the field, well think again, some of those fans can present more of a threat than anything the player will experience during a normal game…

There you have it, our list of the World’s 10 Most Dangerous Sports. If you disagree with the sports we’ve included on this list, or just have something to add, let us know. we know you will anyway.

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