Government plans to move out of lockdown also include return of community rugby at end of March
Rugby fans in England could be back in stadiums from 17 May
The Government’s plans to move England out of lockdown could see rugby fans return to stadiums from 17 May.
The ‘roadmap’ announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson also includes the resumption of organised outdoor sports – like community rugby – from 29 March.
These dates are all subject to certain conditions being met around vaccines and infection rates, but are a positive sign for both professional and grass-roots sport.
Related: A tribute to rugby fans
In terms of the return of supporters, the Government plans to run pilot events in April and if they are successful up to 10,000 people could be allowed into the largest venues from mid-May. In smaller stadiums, 25% of the total seated capacity could be permitted – it’s whatever figure is lower.
So while there won’t be crowds for either the men’s or women’s Six Nations matches in England, fans could be back for the final rounds of the Gallagher Premiership season.
If the move out of lockdown goes smoothly, all restrictions on social contact could be lifted from 21 June, which would mean capacity crowds from that point on. So there could be a full house at Twickenham for the Premiership final.
As for the return of community rugby in England, there are likely to be restrictions around this in terms of contact training and so on, as there were during the previous ‘restart’ last year.
The RFU cancelled all league rugby below Premiership, Championship and Premier 15s level last year, but there could be an opportunity for friendly fixtures under the ‘Ready 4 Rugby’ format.
A statement from the RFU read: “The Rugby Football Union welcomes the announcement by the Prime Minster that grass-roots team sports, including community rugby, can return from 29 March and the start of fans returning to stadiums from May.
“This is good news for the game and for players, coaches and volunteers across the country who will once again be able to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of being involved in team sport.
“We will work with DCMS on the Covid protocols for the community game, including the format of rugby that will be permitted in return to play. We also look forward to working with Government and other sports on the safe return of fans to stadiums.”
Elsewhere in the UK, there are currently no dates for a return of community rugby or fans in stadiums. In Northern Ireland, lockdown has been extended to 1 April while in Wales, only four people from two different households can meet outdoors to exercise. News on Scotland’s route out of lockdown is expected later this week.
The announcement that capacity crowds could be back by late June may also increase the likelihood of the British & Irish Lions series against South Africa being staged in the UK.
A match against Japan at BT Murrayfield on 26 June is already on the schedule so could the rest of the tour be moved north?
The Lions are currently considering several options, including the tour going ahead behind closed doors in South Africa and moving it to Australia. But the possibility of playing games in front of fans in the UK could make a home ‘tour’ more attractive to organisers, although there is obviously no guarantee supporters would be allowed in stadiums.
It will all depend on infection rates and the number of vaccines being rolled out – and the Lions will have to make a decision without knowing what the picture will look like in a few months’ time.
Still, the fact we now have dates to work towards for the return of community rugby and supporters is a positive.
Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.