SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s National Rugby League will continue into the second round of the season next week in closed stadiums because of the coronavirus pandemic, Rugby League Commission chief Peter V’landys said on Sunday.
The NRL, the most popular professional winter sport in New South Wales and Queensland, started this weekend with fans in attendance despite the wholesale suspension of leagues and events around the world.
V’landys said that the decision to continue into week two could change at any time given the fluid nature of the situation but warned of a “catastrophic” financial impact on the game if there was a prolonged shutdown.
“It’s one of the toughest challenges for us to stay viable in the history of the game,” he told a news conference in Sydney.
“This can change by the hour. All decisions we will make will have the safety and health of our players as paramount.
“We are going to review all options including isolating players or suspending the season. We’ve commissioned a pandemic expert and we are going to act on their advice.”
The league was left with little choice but to exclude fans for round two after the Australian government advised on Friday that people should not gather in groups of more than 500 from Monday because of the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
New Zealand’s government announced on Saturday that anyone arriving in the country from overseas would have to undergo two weeks of isolation.
The New Zealand Warriors NRL team will therefore remain in Australia this week and play their second round match against Canberra, which was scheduled for Auckland, on the Gold Coast.
V’landys said the NRL was not insured for losses from a prolonged shutdown and called on the Australian government to provide financial assistance.
“An Australia without rugby league is not Australia,” he said. “The government has to assist us in this crisis because it is not of our doing. The game as we know it is in jeopardy.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Pritha Sarkar