Wigan Warriors set to surrender home advantage when Super League restarts
Many Super League clubs are set to surrender home advantage when the competition resumes – possibly in August.
Karen Moorhouse, the chief regulatory officer for the RFL, said it is “very likely” that only a small number of venues will be used to stage matches.
The move could see, for example, Leeds’ Headingley and Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium host the behind-closed-doors games, reducing costs and easing the logistics of making sure the protocols are in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked if the competition will return at select grounds, she said: “It’s very likely.
“When you talk about behind closed doors, you’re looking at having a limited number of stadiums - it means you can dig down and have a limited number of procedures.
“We’ve started to pull together a spectrum for what venues we would need to deliver what we want, and rather than geographically, it will be what we need to deliver from those venues. We’ll know which venues we’re looking at pretty quickly.”
Moorhouse will this week step up discussions with medical advisors to make sure clubs have the right procedures in place to return to training, including regular temperature checks and each club appointing a designated Covid-19 medical officer.
A clinical advisory group includes England doctor, Prof Chris Brookes, a director of Wigan.
“In relation to returning to training, everything we’re doing is medically-risk led,” she said. “We’ve been working closely with the Clinical Advisory Group (CAG) who, in essence, are a group of medics within the game who make recommendations on to how anything to do with our game that has a medical aspect should work.
“We’ve got a draft for return to play in circulation which covers stages one and stage two, which 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. 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’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.”
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.
The RFL has sought advice from the government and been told returning to formal training would not be allowed while clubs are making use of the job retention scheme, in which they pay a chunk of players’ salaries.
Clubs, cash-strapped because of this crisis, may delay a return to training as late as possible – raising fears of a player welfare issue after months without contact training,.
Moorhouse said: “I don’t know the specifics surrounding what any club is preparing, they will all have their own performance teams delivering guidelines on that.”
The cost of testing is another stumbling block before games can resume.
“Clearly the cost will be significant but ultimately we have to do it to make sure we have that safe environment for players and get our product back on TV,” she said.
“These policies will be fast-moving and a bit of what drives what we do is infection rates across the country.
“We know where we hope they will be in a few months, and as it hopefully goes down, the clinical group will review the level of testing needed across the game.”
There has been some suggestion limited-crowds will be allowed back by October.
Moorhouse added: “Clearly we’re all really mindful of how important ticketing revenue is for clubs and the sport, but the priority at the moment is rightly public health and the expectation is that this will pick up in more detail down the line.
“We’re putting plans in place as to how social distancing could work at grounds, and we’ve got 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.”