2003 Rugby World Cup-winner to donate brain for chronic traumatic encephalopathy research - Ruck

2003 Rugby World Cup-winner to donate brain for chronic traumatic encephalopathy research

Steve Thompson, a Rugby World Cup winner, will donate his brain to scientists studying brain trauma following his dementia diagnosis at age 45.

Join the RUCK’s WhatsApp community here and get the latest news sent straight to your messages.

Thompson is part of a group of former players suing rugby’s governing bodies for negligence. His brain will be used by the Concussion Legacy Project to research chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition only diagnosable posthumously.

Thompson expressed his commitment to improving the safety of the sport, stating, “I’m pledging my brain so the children of the people I love don’t have to go through what I have gone through.

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

The Concussion Legacy Project, a new brain bank initiative by the Concussion Legacy Foundation UK (CLF) and the Jeff Astle Foundation, is named after the late England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle, who died in 2002.

A re-examination of Astle’s brain in 2014 revealed he had CTE. Dawn Astle, Jeff’s daughter, highlighted the importance of the project, saying, “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.”

Before speaking out in 2020, Thompson was diagnosed by neurologists at King’s College, London, with early-onset dementia and probable CTE.

Thompson said he has experienced “massive guilt for what I’ve put my family through” since being diagnosed and that he has “massive downers and massive ups”.

“Now we know and we’re talking to specialists, we understand what the symptoms are and we’re working round that,” he added.

England’s Steve Thompson. – England v Ireland Six Nations-Phil Mingo/©Pinnacle – Photo Agency UK Tel: +44(0)1363 881025 – 16/02/02-sport-rugby

“The more people that come forward, the more people we can help and show they’re not alone.”

Thompson said it did not take long for him and his wife Steph to decide to donate his brain.

“When I had the diagnosis I was all over the place and my family was all over the place,” he explained.

“I came across Dawn and [executive director of CLF UK] Dr Adam [White] and they put everything in place.

“They made me feel like I wasn’t alone. When it came to it, it’s just whose hands do you put that brain into.”

What England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup heroes look like now, some are very different

Sir Clive Woodward’s England lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy for the first – and so far only – time in 2003, after a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal in extra time.

Woodward’s side are still the only northern hemisphere side to win the World Cup, with the other nine tournaments won by South Africa (four), New Zealand (three) and Australia (two). 

In a video posted by England Rugby’s Instagram account, Wilkinson – who scored the all important drop goal 28 seconds from time – said: ‘It’s great being back with all the guys from the squad 20 years on.

‘It’s great to be able to see everyone, and to get a feel of what everyone’s been up to, but also to I guess get a feel for why we were able to do what we did 20 years ago, because it still lives on in everyone.’

Take a look at how some of the key players look now:

Phil Vickery

A former Gloucester and London Wasps prop, Phil Vickery called time on his career at the end of the 2010 Premiership season. The two-time British & Irish Lion was a revered opponent across the world, and has since started a successful clothing brand ‘Raging Bull’, with his on-field nickname. Vickery was forced into retirement due to a series of neck injuries, and in 2012 he joined Worcester Warriors as their Scrum Coach.

Vickery has also tried his hand at sports broadcasting, as he was apart of the commentary team for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. His on-screen appearances have also been witnessed across a variety of TV shows, including ‘Celebrity MasterChef’, which he won in 2011. An eternal fan favourite at Kingsholm Stadium, Vickery was appointed the title of Deputy Lieutenant of Gloucestershire in 2015.

Jonny Wilkinson

Renowned for his iconic drop-goal that secured victory against Australia in the 2003 final, Wilkinson transitioned into a coaching role with Toulon, focusing on kicking and skills development following his retirement. He also now works as a pundit for ITV Sport during Rugby World Cup’s and the Six Nations.

Will Greenwood

Greenwood continued to shine on the international stage following the 2003 glory, and went on to represent the British & Irish Lions for their 2005 tour to New Zealand. He ended his career at Harlequins in 2006, and soon gave his experienced views through analysis and punditry. Greenwood co-hosted the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ TV series with former Wales international Scott Quinnell, and was an on-screen analyst for ITV as England reached the final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Will has also explored opportunities away from rugby, and is the current Chief Customer Officer for data and software company Afiniti’s London office. Greenwood’s family was struck with tragedy, after his son Freddie died just 45 minutes after being born. The former England centre underwent an inspirational walk to the North Pole in memory of his son, and helped to raise over £750,000 for Borne’s research. Greenwood is a patron of Borne, who are a medical research charity that work with cases of premature birth. He is also a patron of Child Bereavement UK, which is a charity that support parents who have lost a child.