Cullen: It’s important we are open-minded to the best solution

The paralysing uncertainty as to just when sport can emerge again from house arrest has brought all sorts of strange ideas into play. So it is that a scenario previously unthinkable, anathema even, is now being viewed as the best of a very bad lot.
Cullen: It’s important we are open-minded to the best solution
Cullen on games potentially being played behind doors: “It takes away from what supporters bring and we have been incredibly lucky over the last number of years in terms of the involvement our supporters have had but it would be better than nothing and it would allow us to get the sport back up and running.”

The paralysing uncertainty as to just when sport can emerge again from house arrest has brought all sorts of strange ideas into play. So it is that a scenario previously unthinkable, anathema even, is now being viewed as the best of a very bad lot.

Spectators are to professional team sports what tonic is to gin but, as Leinster head coach Leo Cullen suggested yesterday, rugby is among those sports badly in need of revenue.

That means playing games behind closed doors, for so long a punishment imposed on teams, is now something to wish for.

“We will just get on with that if that is the arrangement,” said Cullen of the closed doors policy.

“It will be a slightly different situation if that was to take place.

"We’ve all been involved in training games and pre-season games where there is not that same crowd atmosphere at games.

“It takes away from what supporters bring and we have been incredibly lucky over the last number of years in terms of the involvement our supporters have had but it would be better than nothing and it would allow us to get the sport back up and running.”

Keeping the gates closed would, on the face of it, circumvent the fact that mass gatherings will not be taking place any time soon but even this dramatic and potentially divisive course of action would not be without problems.

A closed stadium would still be populated by almost 50 players, management teams, support staff, match officials, security, medical personnel and more. Add in the likelihood of it being screened and that’s a small army of TV personnel to boot.

That’s a logistical issue in itself in the absence of a vaccine.

The fact is that organised sport has countless hurdles yet to jump before it can stand poised on the starting line again and not least among them is the need for everyone involved to be tested for Covid-19 at a time when testing efforts are still struggling to catch up with the virus itself.

The logistics involved in playing a game under such straitened conditions are many and complex. Players would need to be fed, prepped, transported long before they even began to grapple with each other across almost one-and-a-half hours of physical contest and Leinster are still only getting their heads around that.

“There’s different documents being worked on at the moment as to what all of that would look like. So there’s the working back from a normal match down to a closed door match day, what would all that look like? All the way to the way we train, how we treat the environment etc, etc.

“Different types of scenarios, smaller groups, levels of contacts, how we hygienically clean down the building etc,” Cullen explained. “So, day-to-day there’s a full array of documents being worked on at the moment but it’s still very much in the formulation phase.”

Sports around the world have contemplated various means of circumnavigating the crisis in order to finish their seasons. Some have walked a fine line between inventiveness and pure mad and Cullen has been keeping tabs on most of them.

Among the ideas formulated was that of the Premiership Rugby chiefs in England who have contemplated the possibility of playing off all remaining league games at Twickenham and thus cutting through a number of the complexities.

There would be less travel for clubs, less demands on public resources around the country and the teams would effectively be isolated and hothoused in the 150-room Marriott Hotel which is attached to the ground in southwest London.

Some sort of Irish equivalent, “might be on my radar but it’s definitely not on my wife’s radar, she’s also working from home with two children,” said Cullen who did say at another point that Leinster were “open-minded” about possible solutions.

There is realism amid all this. Other, non-contact sports are better suited to an earlier return than the likes of rugby, he pointed out, and the four provinces may find the ties that bind them to be even tighter by the time some manner of normality is restored.

With the Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup both complicated by their international dimensions, it may be that Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht find themselves returning to action in the form of a beefed-up interpro series.

“At some point you’re going to have to get back playing and get back training, even in smaller groups. It’s just a gradual build-up of whatever that all looks like. There may be complications in cross-border competitions,” said the former Leinster captain yesterday.

“We’ve four interprovincial teams on our doorstep and our club scene as well. What does all that look like and what is the level that we come back at? It’s important we are open-minded to the best solution and the decisions that have to be made to make the best of the situation we’re in.”

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