Future of sports still unclear as COVID-19 keeps sports away

By James Perry

The way in which the nation runs sporting events will never be the same again. COVID-19 has and continues to change the landscape of sport on and off the sporting fields and courts across the country in months to come. 

It's been four weeks since the NRL and Super Rugby seasons were suspended. Officials of both competitions and indeed of both codes have been busy making plans to restart the respective seasons as soon as possible, government-imposed restrictions on both sides of the Tasman have seen those plans remain in the pipeline.

Sports commentator Jamie Wall says that may remain the case until Coronavirus has been eliminated completely.

"You get the feeling that to return to normal in sport we have to get back to the absolute lowest level of restrictions of the government.

"Sport obviously brings people into contact with one another, and at the highest level it brings thousands of people into stadiums which is the absolute last thing you want to be lifting if you're planning on containing a virus.

"You have to think that the whole thing will have to be completely wiped out before that's going to happen," the Brothers in Black author says.

This week SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos raised the possibility that the Super Rugby and Rugby Championship competitions could be played simultaneously should travel restrictions and health regulations allow. 

Meanwhile excitement amongst provincial rugby fans is growing. The thought of continued border controls could mean All Blacks could be play a meaningful part in the Mitre 10 Cup competition for the first time in the better part of a decade. 

While he is personally in favour of that, Wall believes New Zealand Rugby would be in favour of shorter competition involving the 5 Super Rugby sides. 

"That to me would look alright I think, because then you could consolidate as many top players into a match as possible. As we know when we watch Super Rugby the NZ teams playing each other definitely rate the highest, and have the highest attendances." 

Meanwhile the NRL continue to push toward the May 28 date to restart their competition. However with the seemingly hour by hour updates of new stories from NRL HQ in Sydney, that date is far from certain.

The NZ Warriors believe they need to leave for Australia this weekend at the latest to be able to be ready to play at the end of May, but with multiple travel restrictions imposed here and in Australia, and between states confusion and uncertainty reigns. 

The NRL have also pushed back important meetings until next week, creating even more uncertainty among clubs, players, fans and broadcasters. 

Despite all the confusion, Wall believes it shows the NRLs' fight to get their game underway is an example other sports could be following.

"It's heartening from a fans point of view, they're so desperate to at least give us something to watch for the rest of the year. 

"It's something that a lot of people want and in fact need. Because right now the only thing to watch on TV is the government press conferences and they're getting a little bit boring."

However in today's government briefing Sports Minister Grant Robertson described the May 28 start date proposed by the NRL as 'very ambitious'. 

Robertson added, "I did hear yesterday that the other NRL clubs wanted to make sure the Warriors had an opportunity to undertake pre-season training once they got to Australia."

When asked if the Warriors required special dispensation to travel to Australia while the country was in lockdown, Robertson all but ruled that out.  

"Overall, the principle we continue to have to apply is public health and safety.

"That applies as much to professional sportspeople as it does to anyone else."