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World Rugby document says matches with large crowds unlikely before vaccine

Full-contact training will also present a major challenge for rugby teams.

A WORLD RUGBY document providing guidelines on a safe return to rugby warns that matches in front of large crowds are unlikely until a vaccine for Covid-19 is widely available.

The 29-page document, authored by some of the sport’s leading medical experts, also outlines the measures that will need to be taken as teams attempt to resume training, while underlining how difficult a challenge full-contact training will be for the sport.

In Ireland, a five-phase road map for reopening society and business released by the government last Friday has listed rugby under phase five, which could allow the sport to commence on 10 August.

majella-smyth The Aviva Stadium. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The IRFU has yet to officially announce its plans for moving towards a resumption of rugby. Inter-provincial clashes are the most likely games to return first but they will almost certainly be played behind closed doors.

World Rugby’s guidelines suggest that large crowds may not be allowed to attend games until a vaccine for Covid-19 becomes available, which could take more than 12 months.

“Large traditional crowds are unlikely in the absence of an effective and freely available vaccine for Covid-19,” reads the document.

Having to play games without large crowds for another year, at least, would be a crippling financial blow for professional rugby, which is already in severe trouble amidst the shutdown of the sport.

The IRFU is among the unions who are heavily dependent on the revenue generated by their national team’s home games, with that source accounting for around 80% of the union’s entire income.

World Rugby’s document points out that travel for games “will likely initially be over short distances.”

Regarding the major difficulty of possible international games, the document says that “practically, the teams of both countries would need to have relaxed border control measures to allow proposed visiting teams and players to enter – requiring reduction in border and quarantine restrictions.”

Ireland are currently due to host Japan, South Africa, and Australia in Dublin in November. Their tour to Australia, which had been set for July, is due to be called off.

For now, there is severe uncertainty over the possibility of international rugby in 2020.

In the short-term, the IRFU will focus on plans to get the provincial teams back into training at their facilities as they build towards possible inter-pro fixtures behind closed doors.

While Irish government advice and restrictions are most relevant to any such IRFU plans, the World Rugby guidelines suggest bringing teams together again for training will be a painstaking process.

The suggestion is that training would begin in very small groups. Those groups would gradually be increased in numbers in accordance with government guidelines.

“Until a vaccine is developed for Covid-19 the team environment will be quite different,” says the World Rugby document, which suggests that each person involved with the team will need to have their temperature checked prior to entering the training facility.

If any person’s temperature is above 37.5C, they will be “sent home and advised to contact your team doctor or primary care doctor.”

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Players would need to change and shower at home, turning up ready to train and leaving immediately. 

Among many other measures, the document recommends that “where possible, all players and staff should wear face masks to prevent possible spread from asymptomatic, infected players.”

The contact side of rugby will present a huge challenge given that social distancing is impossible in that situation.

“This type of contact will make all players training and playing close contacts,” says the document.

“Therefore, should a team-mate or opposition player in a recent match develop an infection, all their teammates are likely to be close contacts and require isolation and testing.”

Any decision for Irish rugby to return to full contact training will be dependent on Irish government advice.

“Full squad contact training requires reduction in personal social distancing measures or a specific government exemption,” says the World Rugby guidance.

The World Rugby document, entitled ‘Safe Return to Rugby – in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic’ was authored by some of the game’s leading medical experts: Prav Mathema, Mary Horgan, Martin Raftery, and Éanna Falvey, formerly Ireland’s team doctor and now World Rugby’s chief medical officer.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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