TORONTO — Rugby Canada and its provincial unions have formed a working group tasked with developing a countrywide "return to play" strategy.
The national governing body says the formation of the group comes as various jurisdictions across the country begin to loosen some lockdown restrictions. Still, Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen stresses that it will up to health and government authorities to decide when the sport emerges from its current COVID-19 suspension.
Vansen calls the working group "a positive first step in what will be a methodical, long-term process of returning to play safely."
The committee will also have to ponder the possibility of the sport reopening in some jurisdictions earlier than others due to the virus.
"We expect that we'll see different parts of the country enable a form of rugby or certainly training evolving into smaller gatherings ... We're not going to immediately jump back into 15-a-side rugby full-on," Vansen said in an interview.
The working group has also been asked to "initially consider creative options in terms of 'rugby-type' activities, while also developing plans towards resuming full sevens and 15s competitions."
That could include the likes of flag-rugby, a non-contact form of the game that Rugby Canada hopes will attract people to the sport.
A return to the sport will allow Rugby Canada and its provincial unions to collect much-needed revenue in the form of registration fees, although the amount may be smaller given the COVID-19 disruption.
The working group, chaired by B.C. Rugby CEO Annabel Kehoe, consists of representatives from each provincial organization and Rugby Canada. The provincial groups will also be asking "key leaders" and coaches from their rugby communities to assist them.
There are positive signs elsewhere.
Elite rugby is set to resume in New Zealand on June 13 via the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa, a domestic tournament involving New Zealand’s five Super Rugby clubs. Teams will play each other home and away over 10 weeks, with two matches per weekend in empty stadiums.
"The thought of five world-class Kiwi teams battling it out in 20 matches over 10 weeks should put a smile back on the faces of many people," said Mark Robinson, chief executive of New Zealand Rugby.
Tournament protocol includes daily symptom and temperature checks for players, team management and other officials involved, as well as stringent hygiene and cleaning plus contact tracing practices.
Teams will fly in and out on match days by charter. The competition will see the return of Canada captain Tyler Ardron, who plays for the Gallagher Chiefs.
Australia is looking at a Super Rugby tournament of its own, likely starting in early July.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press