A Northern Ireland boy has been told he is unable to play rugby because of his prescription safety goggles. Seven-year-old Ryan Totten, from Colerane in County Antrim, has played rugby for his home town club for three years.
The BBC reports that due to his poor eyesight, the boy “has worn sports goggles that meet British and EU safety standards” adding that he is “too young to wear contact lenses.”
But the sport’s governing body, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), has said he is not allowed to play contact rugby and at a tournament in April, he was asked to leave the pitch due to IRFU rules which ban players from wearing any eyewear on the pitch.
According to the BBC, the boy’s mother said that he was "upset, embarrassed and disappointed" that he was unable to play.
Current IRFU rules state: “In the interest of safety (of the player wearing the goggles and other players) and best practice, the wearing of glasses or goggles when participating in the contact format of rugby cannot be allowed.”
While the IRFU defended its position, telling the BBC it “must prioritise player safety at all times,” the body said it would review its policy on eyewear following the results of an eyewear trial by global governing body, World Rugby.
Commenting on the story, optometrist and chairman of BBR Optometry, Nicholas Rumney, said that contact lenses could be an option. The optometrist explained that while some patients may be “clinically unsuitable” for contact lenses due conditions such as severe dry eye, there is “no mutually agreed age barrier and many practices have representation in very young and very old populations.”
Mr Rumney told OT: “It remains possible that he may have an intrinsic eye problem that renders contact lenses wear incompatible. It may be that contact lenses have been considered and excluded on cost grounds...it is much more likely that he has come up against opposition from uninformed personal, social, medical or even optometric opinion.”
He added: “It would be a sad thing indeed if such barriers were placed in front of a promising sportsman. It should never be forgotten that were it not for contact lenses and ultimately, refractive surgery...Ireland would have been without arguably the best centre the world has ever seen; Brian O'Driscoll.”
President of the British Contact Lens Association, Brian Tompkins, added: “While I’m not familiar with Ryan’s specific eye care needs, a child of his age should be able to wear contact lenses. I actually had two seven-year-olds in practice today for a contact lens review.”
Mr Tompkins told OT: “Any parent interested in getting contact lenses for their child, should speak to their eye care practitioner, who will be able to advise them if lenses are suitable for their child and if so, fit the appropriate lens."