No date on the horizon for fans returning to games

Fans arrive for the Betfred Super League match at The Mend-A-Hose Jungle, Castleford.

While Super League is returning next month behind closed doors, there is no date on the horizon for fans returning to games.

Clubs have started to address issues such as season ticket refunds, with the likelihood of them being able to host home games in 2020 looking remote.

There is some hope that by October, a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend sporting events, which would then see Super League shift from playing across three venues, to enabling clubs to play home games themselves, and potentially gain the revenue associated with that.

Clearly the situation regarding coronavirus and coming out of lockdown and the restrictive measures is fluid, not to mention fears of so-called second waves and local lockdowns as experienced in Leicester this week.

Fans have been allowed to return to the NRL in recent weeks, although must observe social distancing guidelines.

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Following the announcement of Super League’s return, fans of Championship and League One clubs have been eager to find out if their favourites will return to action – but there has been very little movement on that front, with the situation set to be the key discussion point at an RFL board meeting on Monday.

After last week’s meeting of clubs, the RFL have distributed a survey to gauge opinion.

Oldham chairman Chris Hamilton said: “There is still no decision on whether we will return this season. There is so much to consider, including the welfare of many people such as fans, season ticket holders and sponsors, and whether clubs and venues are able to comply with all required standards.

“There isn’t, at this present time, a date on the horizon as to when spectators might be able to return to watch games, even in reduced numbers. That’s what everybody wants although it is very much dependent on how the virus continues to be controlled.

“It would be fair to say that the amount of work that has gone into this, both at Government level and with the RFL, has been significant. It is a much more complex situation than you might expect.

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“The original document we received about return-to-train protocols was 22 pages long and I can assure you there were no wasted pages in there.

“The threat of Covid-19 remains very real and rugby league, due to the nature of both training and playing, is a high-risk sport. It is therefore vital that all necessary steps and guidelines are strictly followed to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

“This includes ensuring that all training and playing venues are bio secure. That will entail a lot of work and cost, obviously, with the testing of staff and players a key element of the whole process.

“In addition, the needs of players and staff – for whom this is a second job – are paramount, together with those of our medical staff, who work within the NHS.

“As I have said before, the RFL has done an impressive job for the game throughout the whole of this pandemic and has kept clubs up to date as much as possible with information and guidance, all of which is following government advice, which is crucial.”

The general consensus among lower league clubs is that there are too many hurdles, both logistically and financially, for clubs to jump to return to action in 2020, and instead will focus on next season.

However, there is a group of clubs keen to resume with one club chairman threatening to pull his financial support if the season doesn’t get back underway.

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