The August return date for rugby under the Government’s roadmap has been a source of frustration for the IRFU, but chief executive Philip Browne welcomed the start of a dialogue between Irish sports and public health decision-makers.
Deemed a close-physical-contact sport alongside boxing by the Government, rugby cannot resume from the Covid-19 lockdown until the fifth and final phase of the roadmap on August 10, while other contact sports such as Gaelic Games and football have been given the green light for phase four, from July 20.
“Listen, I think we would have been a little frustrated,” Browne said yesterday, “but I can understand why people would have taken that view.
“I think the one level of frustration is that at the end of the day the sports know how they can mitigate some of the issues that the public health people would like to have comfort on.
“And one of the problems is that there’s no dialogue, or there hasn’t been direct dialogue between sport and those who are making decisions around the public health guidelines.
“And hopefully that has been addressed now in that an expert group has been set up by Sport Ireland, which will effectively have a brief to look at different sports’ plans to reopen and that expert group will then have a conduit to the Department of Health and those that are making decisions around public health guidelines.
“So I think we’ve now caught up to a position where there seems to be that level of dialogue and sport’s voice is now in a position to be heard.
“Having said that, when you look at the challenges that are there for NPHET and the Department of Health, you can understand why they haven’t had the time to deal with every sector of society.
“Everyone is asking the same questions and I’m sure it’s a huge challenge for them. So I’m quite happy that now there’s a process and a structure involved where sport’s voice can be heard by those making the decisions around public health guidelines.”
If rugby is to follow the sports that are returning earlier, such as English Premier League football, then it will need to implement widespread player testing for the coronavirus, and that will come at a high financial cost.
Asked if the IRFU had looked into testing, Browne replied: “Yes we have, and it’s not cheap. I think that is going to change as time goes on, I would imagine, and there are also issues of testing capacity, access to testing, so all of things are there.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s eating the elephant, isn’t it? If you don’t start somewhere you’ll never eat the elephant. So what we’re doing is trying to chip away at it and find out and establish where the major challenges are and how can we address them and we have to do that if we’re going to progress.”