Championship and League 1 clubs reiterate strong opposition to season returning

Almost three-quarters of Championship and League 1 clubs have said they do not wish to restart the season behind closed doors while the current furlough is active.

Clubs met last week to discuss the future of the competitions, with the prospect of voiding the season discussed.

The RFL sent out a survey several weeks ago to collate the views of clubs, with the results shared at last week’s meeting.

League Express understands that 72 per cent of clubs said they did not wish to restart the campaign behind closed doors while the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is active.

A higher percentage of Championship clubs were in favour compared to League 1 clubs, with eleven of the Championship’s 14 clubs believing that closing down is the best course of action, compared to seven of the eleven clubs in League 1 taking the same view.

In effect, that means that only seven of the 25 clubs are in favour of the competitions returning when government guidelines allow them to do so.

The government announced last week that furloughing measures would remain in place until October, which was a significant piece of news to clubs that are relying on the scheme during the season lockdown.

However, the bigger issue is playing behind closed doors, with 14 of the 25 clubs saying they did not want to play behind closed doors, even if furloughing ended.

The majority of clubs believe they will be able to manage their finances better if the season doesn’t restart. They fear they would be unable to remain solvent when if they were to play when crowds are not allowed into stadiums. There are also concerns with regards to testing, both in terms of the cost and how it could be carried out safely and efficiently when staff and players have part-time jobs outside the rugby environment.

A decision to void the season has not yet been made. It was decided that clubs would instead split into working groups, with one to work out the costs and logistics and another to find a way to offset the costs involved.

However, despite there being some strong support for the seasons to return, with Leigh, Featherstone and Newcastle among those who want a return to materialise, the majority would prefer the season to be called off.

One Championship official told League Express: “With most in favour of not playing games behind closed doors even if furlough stopped, that shows the way we should go.

“Furlough has now extended and there is no monetary benefit to playing behind closed doors.

“We fully understand the need to play Super League, as the broadcast money that comes from doing so saves the whole sport and Championship and League 1 benefit from this.

“Super League clubs will also be better able to test players and be in safe, sterile environments.

“But the lower leagues have players who are key workers and train at public sites, so it’s simply not viable at the moment.

“Player welfare is paramount and whilst they fit into the young and healthy category and are potentially less at risk, backroom staff at most clubs includes older volunteers who potentially will be vulnerable.

“Government advice and guidelines may change, however, and if so then we can adapt and perhaps look at a small winter competition to help generate ticket revenue or negate part of the refund for season tickets, but we should only consider that if it’s safe to do so and in front of crowds.”