Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) yesterday bowed to the inevitable and suspended its season over growing fears for player safety coupled with tightened government restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The 16-club NRL kicked off two weeks ago and made it through two rounds as one of the last professional sports worldwide still playing during the pandemic.
The cash-strapped league is considered part of Australia’s social fabric and determined efforts were made to keep it going, but the noose began to tighten over the past few days.
The Australian government recommended against all “non-essential” domestic travel and yesterday a shutdown of a range of businesses began nationwide.
A final blow came when Queensland, a major center for the NRL along with New South Wales, joined other states in closing its borders.
“Our pandemic and biosecurity experts said due to the outbreak it is no longer safe for our players to play,” Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said. “This decision hasn’t been taken lightly. Our experts are very concerned with the rapid rate [of infection]. We were alarmed at how everything changed over the past 24 hours.”
V’landys said the NRL was leaving any potential resumption of the season open.
It follows the Australian Football League suspending its Aussie Rules season on Sunday, with A-League soccer the only competition still going, without fans, in the nation.
Football Federation Australia are scheduled to make a decision on its fate today.
NRL bosses have previously said closing down the season would bankrupt the game and push clubs out of business, with lucrative broadcasts contracts at stake.
V’landys said that it was “catastrophic.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever come across a financial crisis like it,” he said. “Rugby league will always survive in some way, but I can’t guarantee it will in the same way. We’re ready for the worst.”
Desperate to stave off financial ruin, the NRL had earlier been considering relocating the entire competition to a vacant mining town in central Queensland.
All the players would have remained there in isolation with games played at a nearby venue, but the decision by Queensland to close its borders put paid to the plan, with V’landys saying the NRL did not have enough time to carry it out.
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