No need for snap decisions

Gareth Walker takes a closer look at the meeting of Championship and League 1 clubs last week.

It was rightly billed as a crunch meeting of non-Super League clubs, when they had to broach the dreaded subject of potentially voiding the 2020 season.

But while, as one Championship Chairman I’ve since spoken to put it, that might be in the back of officials’ minds at all times, we’re not yet at the stage where it has to be a serious consideration.

That same Chairman – and others – remain focused on getting back on the field this year if at all possible.

But there is a definite realism among clubs about the number of hurdles in front of everybody before that can happen.

The main two are the safety of everybody involved, and the cost – and both are interlinked.

As a result, Wednesday’s conference call meeting resolved to set up two working parties moving forwards.

One, which is expected to be chaired by RFL board members Karen Moorhouse and Tony Sutton, will establish how much it would cost clubs at this level to play behind closed doors.

The other, led by RFL chief commercial director Mark Foster, will investigate possible revenue streams to help offset that cost.

The costs element will cover a number of areas – how much it is for each club to open their stadium up, even without crowds, the wages of players and coaching staff once they come out of furlough, and travel for away teams.

But the other major outlay that needs considering will be testing the players routinely and maintaining a safe environment for them at training and in matches.

Reports last week suggested that the Football Leagues One and Two estimated it would cost them £2 million per division to test and complete the remaining weeks of their season.

And although there would be more staff involved with that, it is still a fairly eye-opening figure for what would be a smaller number of matches than it would take to complete Rugby League’s full Championship season.

It is also a number that can change as the science for testing evolves, and may be radically different in a few weeks’ time.

But until the clubs know these figures – and whether there are realistic income sources such as charging for live streaming available – there seems little to gain in making any snap judgements.

It’s fair to say that some clubs are more keen than others to complete the campaign – and that is understandable.

Those at the top end of the Championship have invested significant figures in their squads with promotion at stake, and voiding the season would be a major blow to them.

But several other clubs I’ve spoken to understand the importance of playing again if financially viable, with the further consideration being what if the country is still in its current state, and
unable to host mass gatherings, when next season is scheduled to start?

Do clubs just give up on that as well?

That has to be considered, and for now, the 25 clubs involved have time on their side.

The football leagues are only just getting around to making their decisions at a time when their campaigns were due to finish, and in theory, seasons running until the end of November at least is a plausible option for Rugby League.

There is nothing to gain in making a quick-fire decision now and the landscape then changing again in a few weeks.

But there may come a point in the coming weeks where clubs discover that playing behind closed doors is not a feasible option, and if that does arrive, they will need a new plan to be able to deal with it.

These are not easy times for anybody, but it was heartening to hear, again, a sense of unity between clubs and admiration for the leadership shown by the RFL to date.

There are clubs with different needs and wants at the moment, but they appear to have an appreciation that others are in different boats.

And as this column has stressed many times before, the sport is stronger when taking a collective view, whatever lies ahead in coming weeks and months.