The Premiership Rugby season has been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak, but chief executive Darren Childs has confirmed that the plan is to complete all remaining matches in the 2019/20 season - including the Premiership final - once it is safe to do so.
Top-flight rugby was due to resume in England on 24 April, though with the UK still in lockdown it quickly became clear this would not be possible.
As a result, the season has been put on hiatus for the foreseeable future, meaning that the 20 June Premiership final due to take place at Twickenham will now not go ahead as planned. Instead, the season will be delayed until it is safe to resume the league, with all remaining games then played even if it means next season is heavily affected.
Premiership officials are currently putting together a series of contingency plans in the event that they get the green light to “restart rugby” this year, with the top flight the only remaining league in the country still active after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) ended all other leagues and cups last month. As part of the plans, they will put together different scenarios based on dates where the season could resume.
In a lengthy statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, Childs confirmed that Premiership matches will not go ahead until the Government, Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Public Health England (PHE) declare it safe to do so, with all sporting events currently suspended under the social distancing guidelines aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.
“Following a series of constructive meetings with our clubs, investors, players’ representatives, commercial and broadcast partners, and the RFU, we have agreed on our approach to restart rugby, as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Childs.
“This is not an easy conversation. We are dealing with a catastrophic pandemic that is unprecedented in our lifetimes, the effects of which are heartbreaking and devastating. We also must recognise that when the pandemic is finally at an end; there will still be the economic challenge for many years to come. The markets and businesses that people rely upon are not immune to this virus.
“Many livelihoods are built on professional sport and Premiership Rugby is proud to be home to many of the world’s greatest players. But the livelihoods are not just those of talented players, there are many vital roles across the clubs: from academy teams to medics, canteen staff to groundspeople. So, I’m proud of how our clubs, staff and players have pulled together to make swift and dignified decisions to preserve the sustainability of their independent businesses in order to sustain the challenges ahead.”
But Childs stressed that while the season will now be put on hold indefinitely, it will still be completed if possible.
Once a date has been confirmed for the Premiership final, there will also be a “minimum” 2,500 tickets made available for NHS staff and essential key workers, who are currently battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The statement detailed three key decisions that have been taken by stakeholders, which were:
- Further postponing the current season, and working with the RFU, RPA (Rugby Players’ Association), clubs’ directors of rugby and medical staff to scenario-plan for a number of restart dates, with all measures put in place to ensure safety and wellbeing.
- Exploring with the RFU opportunities to reschedule the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final until later in the year, with all tickets valid for the rescheduled date; and a minimum of 2,500 new tickets to be donated to NHS and essential workers by Premiership Rugby
- Continuing its dialogue with DCMS and Public Health England to ensure it resumes play safely and promptly as soon as the government gives its approval to do so.
The statement added: “The intention is to play all games and complete the season as soon as it can be done safely. In the meantime, Premiership Rugby continues to give its full support to the lockdown measures and encourage everyone to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
It was decided on a Professional Game Board conference call last week that nearly all players and staff across the 12 Premiership clubs will be placed on the Government’s furlough scheme immediately, with genuine fears that some teams may not survive the financial crisis that will follow the pandemic. The RFU has already announced that it has furloughed 340 members of staff, which equates to around 62 per cent of its employees, while head coach Eddie Jones and the entire executive team have taken pay cuts in excess of 25 per cent.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies