The RFL has begun modelling fixture options for 2021 for the return of the Betfred Championship and League 1 competitions, and the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup.
A recent meeting of clubs confirmed that although Government advice is currently that crowds will not be permitted until April, there is a shared desire to return well before that – and that all options should be kept open for the resumption of competitions as soon as possible.
The first week of March, or possibly earlier, has been identified as a possible target date following an informal survey of clubs, and there will be further discussion at a Championship and League 1 Forum next month.
The RFL is working closely with clubs to ensure that they can return initially to train, and in due course play matches, in accordance with Government Guidance and RFL Protocols. This includes running webinars for key individuals including Covid Officers and Coaches.
The RFL is also liaising with DCMS and other sports regarding a roadmap for an earlier return to first socially distanced and limited crowds, safely building to increased crowds, and has forwarded a proposal for this to DCMS. Individual clubs are also having similar dialogue with their local MPs and local authorities.
Simon Johnson, the RFL Chair, said: “As we reflect on the Coral Challenge Cup Final, it is important that we continue to work with the clubs outside the Betfred Super League who have now gone almost seven months without any competitive action.
“The recent announcement that spectators would not be permitted to return to sport was a blow to these clubs, as it was to those in the Betfred Super League, as the return of spectators was key to the plans for the resumption of the Betfred Championship and League 1 competitions as soon as possible this winter.
“However the mood among those clubs is that they must continue to work towards a return as soon as possible. The players and coaches are desperate to get back – as are their supporters.
“At the moment, we are led to believe crowds will not return until April. But as we have seen, these things can change – and with the Our League app, we do have the ability to provide coverage of matches direct to supporters even when crowds are not permitted in the grounds.
“It is difficult to come up with firm fixture plans given that ongoing uncertainty, but we want to give our clubs and supporters an idea of what might be possible in 2021.
“We of course face challenges, but the mood at the recent meeting was one of defiance and also excitement at the prospect of their 2021 return. Our role to work with the clubs and ensure that these competitions are rolled out as quickly as is feasible and we are well aware of activity which is already being planned.
“The RFL remains at the forefront of demonstrating to DCMS and health partners that sports are well prepared for the introduction of socially distanced crowds in well managed outdoor environments, now that indoor arts and cultural events are underway.”
By Joshua Chapman