Safety key in RFL’s blueprint for league return of players and fans
The Rugby Football League says protocols for players’ safe return to club training are imminent and they have also started examining how to socially-distance fans once they are allowed to watch games again.
As it continues towards an aim of resuming the sport in August, the governing body’s chief regulatory officer Karen Moorhouse explained plans are in place to ensure it is ready to act swiftly when the government decrees.
Initially, though, a clinical advisory group, which includes RFL chief medical officer and England doctor Chris Brookes plus Hull KR doctor Gemma Phillips, has held detailed discussions on how to restart training following coronavirus.
They will meet again tonight to confirm recommended protocols and they could be circulated to clubs as early as Tuesday so players – out of action since March – can begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Moorhouse, who will also lead a restart group’s first meeting this week, says the RFL has been pleased with how plans are shaping up.
She said: “DCMS and Government have issued a joint five-stage process to get sport back going.
“The first was training in small groups, the second was full-contact group training, thirdly behind closed doors domestically, fourth was behind closed doors with a cross-border element and the fifth was getting back to sport as we know it – with crowds.
“We’ve a draft for return to play in circulation which covers stages one and two, and covers us through full-contact sessions.
“It’s all about making sure we have measures in place to protect everyone. That’s everything from sanitised environments, cleaning venues, social distancing where it’s required, appropriate testing for players and monitoring any symptoms and protocol if we do have any positive results.
“There are drafts in circulation with the clubs and the players union, and it’s important we consult with our stakeholders to make sure we have a buy-in on how it works. Subject to any feedback, the drafts will go to the RFL Board for approval. It’s then up to clubs to decide when they want to return to train and having all the systems in place to make sure they can do so.”
Moorhouse says working with the NRL – who resumed playing just over a week ago – has proved helpful. In Australia, rigorous testing processes are in place, including temperature checks before training, and each club has a designated Covid-19 medical officer. The game here could adopt similar protocols and, inevitably, many are wondering about the cost involved. Moorhouse added: “Clearly the cost will be significant but ultimately we have to do it to make sure we get that safe environment for players and get our product back on TV.
“These policies will be fast-moving and a bit of what drives what we do is infection rates across the country. We all know where they currently are and where we hope they will be in a few months, and as it hopefully goes down, the clinical group will review what level of testing is needed across the game.”
With furlough still available, some clubs are understood to be contemplating holding off a return to full training until as late as the first week of August.
Potentially playing just a week later could create a player welfare issue after more than four months of no contact training.
But Moorhouse said: “I don’t know the specifics surrounding what any club is preparing in terms of the amount of time they have training before they play a game. They will all have their own performance teams who will advise on that.”
She did say it is “very likely” Super League will follow the NRL by using just a handful of stadiums for all fixtures and rather than it be “geographically-driven, it will be driven by the stadiums that best enable us to deliver safely behind closed doors matches.”
Moorhouse added: “Looking ahead to stage five, clearly we’re all really mindful of how important ticketing revenue is for clubs and the sport, but equally the priority at the moment is rightly public health.
“The main thing is we’re already putting plans in place as to how social distancing could work at grounds. A number of clubs have done some good work on that and we’ve a meeting with all the ground safety officers this week. We need to make sure as a sport we’re in the best possible place so when the Government do say we can get back to having some crowds this can happen.”
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