Season start could be delayed

The Super League season could be delayed by two weeks as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country was plunged into a third national lockdown last week and with cases continuing to rise across the country, the Super League clubs are set to discuss pushing back the start of season on health and safety grounds in a meeting this Friday.

Any delay to the season would require the approval of Sky Sports, and although it’s understood the broadcaster is keen for the season to start as near as possible to the planned March 11th date, they would be open to a short delay.

Most clubs are thought to be in agreement that delaying the season would be logical. A delayed start would increase the prospect on having fans in grounds later in the season, though the initial hope of having fans by April is looking increasingly unlikely, although the roll out of vaccinations would increase the prospect of spectators returning.

However, discussions that are likely to produce more contrasting views will be around the structure of the fixture list.

It’s believed that some clubs would be prepared to abandon the Magic Weekend, given the challenges of hosting spectators, while some clubs would be open to a shorter season generally.

Players are already facing a number of midweek rounds leading into a World Cup campaign, and a delay to the season would only add to the backlog of fixtures in a shorter season. Some clubs, however, are thought to be strongly against reducing fixtures.

Super League had hoped to distribute the fixture list for the upcoming campaign this week, but that has now been delayed, given the latest uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Championship and League 1 clubs are set to meet this Wednesday to discuss their return, after the RFL advised a ten-day suspension to the season last week. But there is a suggestion that those clubs would be allowed to return to training from this Saturday.

The decision to suspend training was made by the RFL on safety grounds. But the RFL also is using it as an opportunity to buy some time and assess the current procedures in place that cover a return to play and to training.

The findings of those discussions will be outlined to the clubs this week, and they are likely to be asked to undergo tighter protocols, which will also include more stringent testing.

Crucially, both Championship and League 1 fall under the elite sporting exemption, meaning both can currently return as planned on the weekend of February 27/28th.
There are two potential issues that could hinder that.

First, Public Health England could order another sporting lockdown as a result of the rising number of cases. Second, some clubs could come out against a return.

There is thought to be some significant opposition among some Championship and League 1 clubs to a return in February if, as expected, crowds are not allowed in stadia until April. A number of clubs believe a return to the field isn’t financially viable while there is no return of supporters in sight, while tighter measures are likely to see a rise in costs too.

However, there is believed to be a stronger appetite to return to the field this season as compared to last, with a stronger belief that they need to return to give something back to their supporters.

Additionally, clubs need to deliver a meaningful season to ensure promotion and relegation can take place at the end of the season, and a delay to the campaign would challenge their ability to achieve that objective.

Similar conversations took place as clubs argued about a return to the field last year, with the 2020 season eventually declared null and void.

Like Super League and Magic Weekend, the Championship’s sister event, Summer Bash, is likely to be on the agenda. The prospect of no fans will only add to suggestions the event should be abandoned, which would also help scheduling on the basis the competition does undergo a delayed start.

However, with Sky regularly showing the event, and clubs desperate for TV exposure, there remains an appetite for it to take place.

Another issue facing both competitions is the presence of Catalans and Toulouse.

The French government has advised clubs to not take part in cross-channel matches due to the current Coronavirus infection rates sweeping across the UK.

That has caused a number of issues in other sports, such as rugby union.

Though the two competitions are aware of the latest move, it is not a primary cause for concern at this stage, given that the seasons are still several weeks away, though naturally those concerns will become more prominent should things not improve in the coming weeks.

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