What now for Rugby League?

League Express editor MARTYN SADLER wonders what the future holds for Rugby League in the short to medium term.

With the Covid pandemic now clearly on the rise once again, both in society as a whole and in Rugby League, none of us can be sure when we will return to having crowds at Rugby League matches or any other sort of sporting event.

On the one hand, it seems strange to walk past pubs and restaurants in some northern towns and see customers in there enjoying a drink or a meal, while we are not allowed to attend events where we would be outside in the open air, with a consequent smaller risk of infection, or so we might think.

Nonetheless, we have to play by the rules, but that means that none of us, including presumably the RFL and Super League, have the slightest idea when crowds might begin to return to Rugby League stadia.

Originally the hope was that crowds would be back by October, but this month has come and almost gone, and crowds look to be as far away as ever.

Now the most optimistic prospect seems to be that they may be allowed to start returning from next April, but I suspect that is based on wishful thinking as much as anything else.

So what does that mean for Rugby League in 2021, especially bearing in mind that it is a World Cup year?

We are now approaching November, which would normally be a month when international matches would be played.

Of course the Australians had been due to visit this country, with the Test series due to begin at Bolton this Saturday, move to Leeds on the following Saturday and then culminate with the first ever Rugby League game at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium in North London on 14 November.

To lose those games is a terrible blow for the RFL.

Players would soon be coming back into their clubs to begin pre-season training for the 2021 season, but with the current Super League season not due to finish until 27 November at the KCOM Stadium in Hull that will obviously not be happening.

I just can’t see non-Super League clubs being able to return to training until we have a vaccine that can send the coronavirus packing, and even then it won’t be a quick process, with a massive vaccination campaign likely to take months.

Those clubs outside Super League have a meeting coming up on 5th November, and I would love to think that they could see a clear way forward. But unfortunately it seems as clear as mud right now.

Meanwhile the RFL, which was awarded a government loan of £16 million earlier this year to allocate to needy clubs, has now allocated about £12 million of that sum, and I understand that around £1.6 million has gone to Super League to help stabilise that organisation.

I still struggle to understand how, at the present time, Rugby League can afford to have two ruling bodies, and I have no doubt that the government, if it were to look at Rugby League more closely, would ask the same question, particularly when, as I understand it, the RFL will approach the government to ask for yet more financial support.

But unfortunately Rugby League as a whole, like every other sport, will be on a life-support machine for some time yet. It’s hard to see how we can plan ahead with any confidence.

This article is a modified version of Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column that first featured in this week’s League Express. To take out a subscription to the printed or digital version of League Express, go to https://www.totalrl.com/league-express/