Studies of elite and professional athletes have pointed to a high level of tolerance of pain among such athletes, coupled with a willingness to continue training and competing even when injured and in pain. The central object of this article is to examine some of the ways in which non-elite players of rugby union and rugby league at a British university respond to and manage pain and injury. The central finding is that the attitudes and behaviour of the non-elite rugby players appear to be broadly similar to the attitudes and behaviour of elite and professional athletes in other sports. This suggests that key elements of the ‘culture of risk’ which has been identified in elite and professional sport are not confined to elite sport but that they are also characteristic of non-elite sport. Particularly important in this regard is the culture of ‘playing hurt’, that is, continuing to play with pain and injury, the value of which is clearly accepted by the non-elite rugby players in this sample. These findings suggest that the ‘culture of risk’ cannot be adequately explained in terms of relatively recent commercial and financial pressures in professional and elite sport to ‘play hurt’, but that it may be a more deeply rooted characteristic of sport at all levels. The paper also examines some of the implications of these findings for government policies designed to improve the health of the nation by encouraging people to participate in sport.