The Five Stages
The Government have outlined a five-stage process for the resumption of sport. The first of those is training in small groups; the second is full-contact group training; the third, staging matches Behind Closed Doors domestically; fourth BCD with a cross-border element; and the fifth stage is getting back to sport as we have known it, with crowds in the stadium.
The RFL have already issued guidance to the Community Game for how this process will apply – relating specifically to stage one, the ability to resume training in small groups. The situation for professional sport is different, as it involves players returning to work (stages 1 and 2), and the possibility of playing matches behind closed doors (stage 3); of cross-border competition (stage 4); and the focus of playing in front of crowds (stage 5).
Guidance has so far been received from the Government on stages one to three – the return to training, and playing domestic fixtures behind closed doors, taking into account the different circumstances and risk factors in individual sports. For example rugby of either code would have a very different assessment to tennis.
Clinical Advisory Group – Stages 1 and 2
Everything we're doing is medically and risk led. The Clinical Advisory Group are medical experts who work in Rugby League, and meet regularly to consider issues and make recommendations to the RFL Board. The CAG is currently chaired by Simon Perritt, the St Helens club doctor, and includes representatives from different levels of the game. These include Dr Chris Brookes, the RFL’s Chief Medical Officer and Wigan Warriors medical director; and Dr Gemma Phillips, the Hull KR doctor who has been the Great Britain and England team doctor.
At a meeting last week, they considered a draft policy relating to Coronavirus and how the first two of the Government’s five stages apply to Rugby League, and a position statement was circulated around the game. Key issues include 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.
It's important we consult with our stakeholders – such as clubs and players - to make sure we have buy-in on how it works. Our expectation is we'll circulate final drafts early this week and subject to any feedback, they will go to the RFL Board for approval. It will then be 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.
Behind Closed Doors – Stage 3 – and beyond
Last Saturday, DCMS issued the guidance for stage three: domestic matches. We've been working with them and lots of other sports on that - it builds on stages one and two.
Working Groups have already been set up for Championship and League 1 Clubs to investigate the costs, logistical issues and potential revenue streams from playing matches behind closed doors.
A Restart Group specific to Super League has also been formed, with initial discussions last week ahead of a first meeting in the coming days. It will combine RFL and Super League Europe executives covering operations, legal, marketing and media, in addition to representation from broadcasters and those venues that will be staging BCD matches.
As with the other stages, key factors will be protecting the welfare of everyone involved, and implementing the recommendations of the CAG: making sure you have social distancing where you can; and where you can't, you have appropriate risk planning.
We anticipate that the Restart Group will also consider stages four - cross-border matches - and five, getting crowds back in our stadia. The same applies to the Championship and League 1 Working Groups.
We're putting plans in place as to how social distancing could work at grounds, and there will be a meeting with all the Ground Safety Officers this week. The absolute priority at the moment is public health so we're not expecting anything imminently - but we need to make sure we're in the best place we can when the Government says this can happen.
The RFL’s Laws Committee, which includes representatives from across the game – players, coaches, medics, match officials, media and administrators from Super League, Championship and League 1 – will meet this Wednesday to consider a range of issues relating to the restart of the season.
Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s Chief On-Field Officer, said: “The Laws Committee agenda includes further discussion of the points of difference between law interpretations of the RFL’s professional competitions, and those now applying in the NRL.
“This will be a continuation of discussions from the last Laws Committee meeting in January, and will include the latest NRL changes – with Steve Ganson, the RFL’s Head of Match Officials, updating having remained in regular contact with NRL officials throughout their lockdown period over changes regarding the policing of ruck offences, and the return to a single referee.
“The Laws Committee will also discuss the implications of the suspension of the season and the medical situation which caused it, as well as the fall-out for the rest of 2020.”