Officials from Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique will meet with RFL and Super League chiefs this week in a bid to avoid “a catastrophic start” to the new season.
Latest French government Covid-control legislation banning unvaccinated players threatens to wreak havoc for all sport in France, with Rugby League affected most because of the involvement of two professional teams in an English competition.
The new laws will come into force on January 15th, less than a month before the start of Super League 2022, leaving the game’s leaders with a huge dilemma and very little time to resolve an ever-changing issue.
“Unless things change it will be a catastrophe for the French clubs,” an insider at Catalans told League Express.
“We already had travel and quarantine issues to discuss with the RFL and Super League, and this latest legislation has made things ten times worse.”
Neither the Dragons nor Toulouse would confirm the number of players in their first-team squad who hadn’t been vaccinated against the virus, stressing that it was “a personal matter” although it is common knowledge via social media that several players are vehemently against having the jab.
What is known is that any players who haven’t been fully vaccinated will not be allowed to play in France from January 15th, unless the French government concedes to pressure already being implemented by football and rugby union authorities.
The rules also apply to UK-based players, adding to already tightened Covid-safe travel restrictions that will necessitate bio-secure travel via private jet, leading to the prospect of weakened first-team squads playing fixtures in France or the possibility that the two French clubs will be asked to play all games in England until the rules change.
Both clubs are remaining tight-lipped on the situation until this week’s meeting but League Express is aware that the prospect of no home games for either Catalans or Toulouse is not financially viable.
“It’s the perfect storm,” said the Dragons’ source.
“Our only hope is that in an ever-changing situation there will be enough time to find a resolution or hopefully the virus will recede and the government will relax its laws.
“We are working very closely with the RFL and Super League on a solution to the situation.”
The two French Super League sides had already planned to return to commercial flights in 2022 to avoid the excessive costs of private flights. But under current guidelines that would not be possible.
A spokesman for the RFL said, “We already had a meeting planned this week with Catalans and Toulouse to discuss all matters Covid and obviously this latest change in legislation will be high on the agenda.”
The RFL recently revealed that around 81 per cent of players were currently vaccinated and they are urging them all to take the jab.
The RFL spokesman added, “The remaining minority of players who have yet to receive any vaccination should be advised that their decisions are having a material impact on others and on the nature of the 2022 competitions.
“All players should be encouraged to have a booster jab as soon as possible, both for their own health, that of other players in the competition and for the effective running of the competitions.
“The RFL will review the position throughout January, both regarding vaccination rates and the public health position regarding the Omicron variant.”
Catalans and Toulouse are scheduled to play a pre-season game at Stade Gilbert Brutus, Perpignan on Saturday 29th January. Under current French legislation, which requires citizens to carry vaccination proof to access many public services, any players who aren’t fully inoculated will not be allowed to play.
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