Cape Town - Former Scotland, Melrose and Newcastle Falcons lock Doddie Weir has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
The former British and Irish Lion – who earned 61 caps for Scotland between 1990 and 2000 – has announced his diagnosis to raise awareness of the condition for Global MND Awareness Day.
Doddie Weir said: ''Over the past few months a number of friends and family have raised concerns surrounding my health. I think then, that on the day set to help raise awareness of the condition, I should confirm that I too have Motor Neuron Disease. I should like to take this opportunity to thank the National Health Service in recognising then diagnosing this, as yet, incurable disease.
“I am currently on holiday in New Zealand with Kathy and the boys and when we return, I will devote my time towards assisting research and raising awareness and funds to help support fellow sufferers. There are plans in place to create a charitable foundation to help in any way we can and we will share these details with you after our family trip.”
Scottish Rugby’s Chief Operating Officer, Dominic McKay, said today: “Our thoughts are with Doddie and his family at this time. Doddie gave distinguished service to the national team for ten years and has been a terrific ambassador for our sport.
He is a larger than life character and Scottish Rugby will look to support him and the charity initiative he has described.”
Alan Tait, who played with Doddie for Newcastle Falcons, Scotland, and on the 1997 Lions Tour to South Africa, said: "Doddie is Doddie. He was probably the last of the amateur professionals and I say that in a respectful way.
He was not one for the gym but he would win line-outs, get around the park, and everybody will remember the fun he would bring to any squad.
"He certainly kept spirits up."
Doddie is supporting researchers in their quest to better understand the disease, in the hope that it will eventually lead to new therapies.
MND – also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease – is a progressive disease. It occurs when specialised nerve cells called motor neurons break down.
These cells usually transmit messages from the brain and spinal cord to tell muscles in the body what to do. In MND, messages from the nerves gradually stop reaching the muscles, which causes them to weaken and waste away.
Eventually, this leads to paralysis and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing.
There are no therapies that can stop progression of MND and little is known about why the disease strikes some but not others.
Doddie Weir has pledged his support for research at the Euan MacDonald Centre, a Scotland-wide research initiative based at the University of Edinburgh.
The Centre was set up in 2007 by Donald MacDonald, a leading Scottish businessman, and his son Euan, who was diagnosed with MND in 2003.
Scottish Rugby already supports the work of the Euan MacDonald Centre through hosting an annual fund-raising sports quiz at Murrayfield in tandem with former international centre, Scott Hastings.
As well as providing specialist care linked to research, the Euan MacDonald Centre supports and undertakes cutting-edge research into MND. It also provides training opportunities for the next generation of research leaders.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend, who also played alongside Doddie Weir in the Scotland jersey tweeted:
Doddie Weir follows in the footsteps of another rugby legend in his support for the Centre. The late South African World Cup winning scrum-half, Joost Van Der Westhuizen, set up a partnership between his foundation and the Centre in 2013 to share knowledge and expertise.
Van Der Westhuizen – who was an opponent of Doddie’s in the 1990s – also had MND and passed away earlier this year.