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NRL moves forward with competition resumption in late May
Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) Chairman, Peter V’landys is confident that the NRL will resume competition on 28th May, having this week met with the league’s long-term broadcast partners, Foxtel and Nine Network.
Having announced last week that the 2020 season will restart at the end of next month, V’landys is insistent that the NRL will be able to resume, irrespective of what Coronavirus restrictions will apply at that time.
However, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said the NSW Government has not given approval for the league to begin playing again.
Asked on Friday whether the NSW Government had given approval to the NRL to resume on 28th May, Premier Berejiklian told the ABC the “short answer is no”.
Adding that it would be up to the NRL to show health authorities it could resume safely, Premier Berejiklian stated “if you’re asking me whether the NSW Government has formally given approval, the short answer is no.
“The organisation has to show that they’re compliant to the health rules and if they don’t, they don’t proceed. If they do well, good luck to them or any other organisation.”
However, V’landys, also speaking on the ABC, insisted the league already has approval to resume “from the necessary departments”.
Seemingly assuming that many Coronavirus restrictions will have been lifted by that time, V’landys added “we do have to show our plans and our actions. I’ve got to say from the outset this is six weeks away, it’s not tomorrow or next week.
“There’s six weeks of more data and more looking at the health measures we will put in place (before restarting).”
The NRL has pushed ahead with its plan to begin holding matches by the end of May, despite criticism from the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer.
Speaking when the NRL first announced their plan to restart competition on 28th May, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly expressed his concern over the risks of returning to action too soon.
Suggesting it could be too soon given how rapidly the virus can be spread, Kelly advised “I don’t think (the NRL) are a law unto themselves.
“Some of the players and coaches may think so, but they’re part of society and they have a part – as we have all done – to support not only safety for themselves but for all of us.
“We all have a place in this and if we loosen the social distancing measures at the moment it can have an implication down the track.
“What we know about this virus, if we don’t have these social distancing measures, (is that) one person can lead to 400 other cases within a month. We just cannot afford at this stage to be considering that happening.”
Last week the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who has been placed in charge of the state’s response to Covid-19, wrote to V’landys, saying there was no legal obstacle for the NRL’s plans to resume playing, despite strict public health orders.
It appears V’landys is relying on that advice, which is based on earlier exemptions in NSW’s public health orders introduced before tighter controls on broader public movement which allow professional sport to continue. The league would still have to show, however, that it could demonstrate it could resume safely.
Asked what agencies had granted approvals for the game to resume, V’landys said the public health orders “doesn’t preclude us from playing the game as long as we can show the government we have the appropriate biosecurity measures in place and there’s no health risk to any of the players.
“And we will show that and we will do it. At the moment we could play tomorrow if we could show that we’ve got those measures in place.
“In the health order it precludes sport from the social distancing measures and allows us to play.”
With significant planning to be undertaken to restart the competition, Rugby League Players' Association (RLPA) Chief Executive Clint Newton, who also sits on the ARLC's Project Apollo committee that is planning the season's restart, told the Guardian Australia “as you can imagine, there're so many different moving parts, from government relations to biosecurity and biomedical (concerns) and then the injury management, the broadcast negotiations and discussions around the structure of the competition."
It seems almost certain that all 16 clubs - including the three Queensland teams, the Melbourne Storm and New Zealand's Warriors - will need to be based in NSW.
The Warriors' ability to travel to Australia may be helped if the New Zealand Government re-opens its border with Australia.
However, as New Zealand's strict lockdown laws stand at the moment, the Warriors do not know when they can leave.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has made it clear she does not want her state's teams travelling back and forth across the border, advising "I am very concerned about Queensland teams going into NSW.
"It would have to be very strict quarantine and I'd have to get advice from my chief health officer."
The NRL has engaged biosecurity and medical experts to help them come up with a health and safety plan, but that is yet to be finalised.
The RLPA will not approve the plan to restart in late May until it is assured its members will be safe and that may not be so easy.
The suspension of the NRL competition last month meant the league was suddenly denied a bulk of its income, upwards of $10 million each week.
With the NRL having to renegotiate a TV broadcast deal with the Nine Network and Fox Sports, each of whom face their own financial challenges, the ARLC’s position has been strengthened through a reported injection of $250 million, secured through a loan from a consortium of British banks.
Image: The Queensland Country Bank Stadium hosts its first NRL fixture on the opening weekend of the NRL season. Image courtesy of Blair Hughes.
13th April 2020 - Federal sports minister says NRL restart plan is ‘a bit ambitious’
5th April 2020 - NRL players to lose five months’ pay as part of new shutdown deal
30th March 2020 - NRL slashes costs and backs clubs through Coronavirus crisis
26th March 2020 - NRL players face 87% wage cut as clubs stand down staff and coaches
24th March 2020 - NRL announces season suspension
20th March 2020 - ANZ Premiership shutdown marks end of all top-level sport in New Zealand
16th March 2020 - Vodafone Warriors to play NRL season matches in Australia
14th March 2020 - Queensland Country Bank Stadium hosts first NRL fixture
11th March 2020 - NRL’s Bulldogs lose $2 million sponsorship following player scandal
4th March 2020 - NRL School To Work program completed by more than 2,000 students
3rd March 2020 - NRL post second consecutive $30 million surplus
6th February 2020 - New 2020 club participation campaign launched for NRL
20th October 2019 - Sydney retains hosting of NRL Grand Final until 2046
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