Australia’s Rugby League Competition Targets End of May Restart

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(Bloomberg) --

The Australian Rugby League Commission has backed a proposal for the sport’s top competition to resume next month, just nine weeks after it was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan that has been endorsed by the sport’s governing body will see the National Rugby League competition restart on May 28 and includes a three-game state of origin representative series and a grand final to be played in Sydney. Signs of a slowing infection rate due to social distancing and government-imposed lockdowns are raising optimism the sport can restart.

“Our goal is to give as much certainty as we can in uncertain times,” ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys said in an April 9 statement. “It is in the best interests of our clubs, our players, our stakeholders and importantly our fans that the competition resumes as quickly and as safely as possible.”

V’landys said there were clear signs that the coronavirus curve was flattening, with the New South Wales state government reducing the infection rate to 1.43% now, compared with 22.27% when the competition was suspended.​

Australia had 6,152 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of 6:00 a.m. in Sydney, according to the government. There have been 52 deaths and more than 330,000 tests conducted. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that social distancing measures may last as long as six months.

The National Rugby League will work with state governments and New Zealand to work out what the restrictions will look like by the time the sport is set to restart next month. Still, Australia has said it will only make changes to its measures under medical advice.

“If restrictions were to remain in place at that time, no doubt they will be adjusting their plans accordingly,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News. “In terms of easing restrictions going forward, we will 100% rely on the medical advice from our chief medical officer.”

New South Wales state Health Minister Brad Hazzard said that he would be happy to speak to the NRL about whether there was sufficient medical advice to resume the competition in May.

“I know that we need to have a sense of balance about our life, a sense of mental health and I know a lot of people enjoy seeing sport so we can have that conversation with them,” Hazzard said.

The decision to restart the competition was made without consulting with Nine Entertainment Co., which holds the free-to-air broadcast rights for rugby league in Australia.

“We had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020,” Nine said in an April 9 statement, according to Fox Sports Australia. “We now find ourselves with a contract that is unfulfilled by the code. We hoped we could talk through a long-term plan.”

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said that while rugby league players were young and fit, the competition needed to take into account that older people around the teams, including coaches, may face risks if the competition is recommenced too quickly. Still, all sporting bodies were considering how to restart when it becomes safe.

“If we loosen the social distancing measures at the moment it can have implications down the track which are not foreseen,” Kelly said. “Whether May is the time remains to be seen and definitely they will need to get some permission to do that.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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