11th September 2020, 13:16 | therfl
*Image - crowds have been allowed back in the NRL on a socially-distanced basis over recent weeks. (NRL Imagery)
Sports need crowds. And fans need the opportunity to choose to watch their favourite sport in a controlled, socially distanced, and largely outdoor environment. Sports including Rugby League are expert in managing numbers of fans entering stadia, enjoying sport, and exiting safely.
The Government had previously earmarked 1 October as the target date for the widespread reopening of major sporting fixtures. This is now being reviewed but as of today no final decision has been made on when it will go ahead.
Rugby League respects that Government and health officials must conduct a thorough review. Public health has been at the forefront of everything that Rugby League has done throughout this period. At all times in our regular dialogue with Government I have stressed this commitment and this morning I have written to the Sports Minister to reiterate this and to urge that the 1 October date remains the target for socially distanced crowds.
It is imperative that momentum is maintained in providing sports with a clear roadmap to first socially distanced limited crowds, safely building to increased crowds. Throughout the Government’s guidance on the return of sport a distinction has been made between indoor and outdoor spaces. Stadiums are large, outdoor spaces, managed and supported by experts in the flow of people, including via local transport and travel plans. Attending sport can be as safe or safer than other comparable leisure activities. And it is a choice.
Rugby League is ready. Behind closed doors event management has been exemplary. All Super League clubs, with support from the RFL and Super League Europe, have worked exceptionally hard with local authority partners to complete all required plans for socially distanced crowds in their stadia. This includes supporting national track and trace, fan data management and health declarations, temperature testing plans and more. We have participated in the wider UK Sport/DCMS pilot project and deployed all learnings to date in our sport’s planning. Discussions on a Rugby League specific pilot are also live.
In unlocking the wider economy including the leisure and attractions sectors, the Government has been rightly focused on both safety and economic viability. Sport is no different. The sport sector drives economic prosperity and social change in the UK contributing over £16bn to the UK economy and employing more than 600,000 people.
Sport must be central to the national and local recovery. It must not be a casualty. It is about jobs and local economies – and more. The experience of playing and watching sport is also fundamental to the physical and mental wellbeing of millions of people.
The financial losses to Rugby League of not being able to admit fans is huge, and it is mounting week on week. The impact on whole game revenues is up to £2m a week.
This means jobs in both clubs and their local communities are at risk. It risks all the investment that the sport makes in participation, and in health and education projects which make such meaningful social impacts in our communities. Sport needs to drive its income and protect jobs through ticket sales and associated spend; and minimise the massive losses from this to date, and projected losses, and from the risks to commercial and sponsorship arrangements. The ambition must be to admit socially distanced crowds into our stadia from 1 October with a clear roadmap to building to fuller capacities. Rugby League is ready.