Efforts will be made to save clubs from financial ruin during the hibernation of rugby league, the bosses of the two governing bodies have pledged.
Rugby league continued to be played up to the weekend in spite of the coronavirus pandemic but Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone says the 13-man game bowed to the inevitable in agreeing to suspend the fixture list at least until April 3.
The announcement, which followed a Government clampdown on mass gatherings, came after a six-hour meeting of Super League clubs in Huddersfield, while the Championship and League One clubs will be told to follow suit when they meet via a conference call on Tuesday.
COVID-19 Statement: Season Suspension
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) March 16, 2020
“Following the government’s announcement, fixtures will be suspended for the entire game,” Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer said.
“We’ll go through a review period up until the third of April and hopefully we can find a path forward.”
With many clubs living hand to mouth, an enforced lay-off for a lengthy period of time could prove crippling to part-time clubs in particular.
Rimmer said: “I don’t think we can deny there is a threat to many of the clubs. All of them have different business models but they are based upon them having a certain amount of home games.
“There’s a threat, we recognise it but there’s a bigger picture – there is a threat to the nation’s health – and we all have to play our part in that.
“Everything interlinks and that’s why it’s absolutely vital that the game works together to find a collective solution.”
St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus had earlier warned of dire financial consequences for even the relatively affluent clubs and Elstone says efforts will be taken to protect them.
The solemn expression on the faces of Robert Elstone and Ralph Rimmer says it all as the Super League and RFL bosses announce a shutdown of the rugby league season pic.twitter.com/ZGH8dWeGHQ
— Ian Laybourn (@ILaybourn) March 16, 2020
“The economic challenges of this are severe and serious,” he said. “I think all clubs are facing with some challenging financial issues to deal with over the next few months.
“Our job is to support them as best we can and there was some dialogue today about how we might do that.”
Elstone says Super League rejected the idea of playing matches behind closed doors for television, particularly after Catalans Dragons and Toronto Wolfpack closed down their operations due to medical concerns.
“We discussed the pros and cons of that,” Elstone said. “Whilst it’s a consideration and perhaps something the broadcasters might wish us to do, the reality is financial implications.
“And given the number of squads being affected by this, the likelihood of us being able to do that is looking slimmer and slimmer all the time.
“Sky are aware of that. They’ve seen it in other sports that, whilst it may be a good thing to try and do, there is a financial implication.”