There will be no spectators on Thursday when the Brisbane Broncos host the Parramatta Eels in the first NRL match in more than nine weeks, but Australian Rugby League chairman Peter V’Landys hopes to lift the ban as soon as social distancing restrictions and border closures are eased in the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re on the moon,” V’landys told local media on Sunday of Project Apollo, the league's push to get back on the field. “We’re looking for Mars now. We want to see in the next three weeks if the infection rate is altered in any fashion. If it hasn’t, we’ll be pushing very hard for crowds … capped crowds. We’re looking at July 1.”
Australia's leading national association of doctors, however, warned that July would be too soon to think about making a change. “Put bluntly, this absurd and dangerous idea belongs in the sin-bin,” AMA president Tony Bartone said in a statement. "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." The AMA highlighted the slow return of sport in Europe without crowds and praised the leaders of Australian rules for their cautious approach tied to expert medical advice.
Stringent controls and early border closures have contributed to Australia having only 102 known deaths from COVID-19 and just over 7,100 reported cases. The federal government has announced a three-phase plan to ease restrictions in the coming months, with the states and territories to determine their own timings. But social distancing and hygiene measures will be retained indefinitely.
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