EletiofeNRL's idea to return crowds to stadiums within weeks...

NRL’s idea to return crowds to stadiums within weeks ‘absurd and dangerous’, says doctors’ association

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The NRL’s ambitious push to get crowds back into stadiums on match days in a matter of weeks has been dismissed as “absurd and dangerous” by the Australian Medical Association.

With the NRL to resume its suspended 2020 season behind closed doors on Thursday, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys on Monday raised the idea of a limited number of fans being allowed back into stadiums by 1 July.

New South Wales and Queensland state governments responded by saying it was too soon to consider any such plan, although they would be open to discussions at some stage in the future.

But the plan was rebutted in the strongest terms by the president of the AMA, Tony Bartone, who said public health must come before anything else and that the idea should be shelved immediately.

“Put bluntly, this absurd and dangerous idea belongs in the sin bin,” Bartone said.

“The NRL should be satisfied that it has its competition back in action, but it is unfair and unwise to put the health of the game’s fans at risk. They must first monitor the health and safety of the players and officials who will be involved in the thick of the on-field action.

“Australians have done exceptionally well in flattening the Covid-19 curve, and we are not too far away from relaxing more restrictions.

“Now is not the time for sporting codes to be considering having crowds at games. They must wait until the medical experts advise that it is absolutely safe to do so – and that will not be as early as July.

Players’ shoes are seen left outside the secure training area during a NRL Titans training session on the Gold Coast on Monday.
Players’ shoes are seen left outside the secure training area during a NRL Titans training session on the Gold Coast on Monday. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

“The AFL and other sporting codes are adopting the right approach, which is to wait for the expert medical advice before allowing crowds back to watch games. We have to be consistent in our public health messaging.”

V’landys, the driving force behind the NRL becoming the first major Australian league to resume competition this week, said the league’s plan would respect government and expert health advice, and would be dependent on the continued decreased of case numbers of the coronavirus.

It would only be implemented under strict biosecurity guidelines, including temperature checks upon entry and socially distant seating. Fans would also need to have downloaded the Covidsafe app to gain access.

Bartone warned against eschewing expert health advice.

“Decisions on the safety of holding mass gatherings should be made by medical experts in consultation with the national cabinet, not by rugby league administrators,” he said.

“Of course, we all want to see sport return with fans in the stands barracking for their teams. We also want to see theatre, dance, live music, cinemas and other entertainments open to the public.

“But the public health must come first. Getting beyond the Covid-19 pandemic is bigger than rugby league – it is about the safety of all Australians.”

The AFL, which will recommence on 11 June, is also reportedly putting into place strategies to welcome back fans should crowds be allowed back for the second half of the revised season.

The Herald Sun reported crowd numbers could be gradually increased, with as many as 30,000 able to watch the grand final at the MCG on 24 October, if certain measures – such as socially distant seating plans, temperature screening, and staggered entry and exit – are employed.

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