Top rugby teams could play out of empty stadiums once lockdown ends

By Jessica Tyson

The COVID-19 lockdown has halted all sports across Aotearoa but steps are already being taken to ensure sporting can resume as soon as possible.

Tapatahi spoke to chairperson of New Zealand Māori Rugby Dr Farah Palmer who says a recovery package has been prepared with options for top rugby teams once the isolation period ends.

“We may be looking at playing out of empty stadiums. Māori Rugby I think will be fine. Funding has been frozen at the moment in terms of activities we can do but we just need to be creative in how we recover from this.”

She says the lockdown was initially challenging for Māori Rugby in particular.

“We’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings with our Māori Rugby stakeholders and they’re all missing the fact they can’t get out there and throw the ball around with their mates and their whānau. So we really appreciate that this is really challenging for those who like to keep active and love the game.”

Dr Palmer says the Māori All Blacks were scheduled to play overseas in July “but that’s unlikely to happen with all of the travel restrictions”.

Instead, the team might play in a domestic competition of some sort, she says.

The All Blacks are also hoping to get back on the field by November.

Meanwhile, the Black Ferns are still preparing for the 2021 Rugby World Cup.

“There’s no indication that that’s going to be postponed, says Dr Palmer.

“The Black Ferns are still planning as if they going to be playing games later in the year. Once again we’re going to have to be creative if that’s not an option and maybe play test matches again if we can get them on board.”

Despite the lockdown, Dr Palmer says, “the health and hauora of our people is most important so we’re appreciative of everyone's efforts to make sure we stay in isolation.”

The government is expected to announce by April 20 whether or not the lockdown will be extended.