Plans to start rugby seasons are abandoned as RFU cancels 2020/21 campaigns for all but top two tiers
The likes of Bury St Edmunds, Diss, Haverhill & District, Newmarket, Sudbury and others around Suffolk will not be returning to competitive league action in the 2020/21 season after a decision taken by the RFU to cancel it.
Models with different starting windows and competition formats had previously been set up that would have allowed reduced seasons - which usually start in September – to take place from as late as a January. But rising levels of Covid-19 have led to those plans being scrapped.
It may not come as a surprise to clubs but it will provide a big blow with match day income a highly significant factor in what keeps them running.
A statement put out by the game's governing body, the RFU, yesterday read: "The RFU Council has made the difficult decision to cancel the Adult Competitive Leagues (Level 3 and below for Men, Level 2 and below for Women) for the 2020/21 season.
"We believe that, even if a return to full contact rugby becomes possible, playing a meaningful competitive league season resulting in promotion and relegation is no longer feasible.
"Given the Government’s additional restrictions to curb the increase in Covid-19 cases in locations across the country, and growing concerns around travelling significant distances outside immediate localities to fulfil fixtures due to increased risk of transmission, the decision has been made now so we can provide clubs with some certainty for the remainder of the season.
"The Championship remains on course to start in January 2021, with this league subject to Government’s Elite Return to Play protocols."
It added that it did not spell the end for hopes of a return to 'some form of contact rugby that will enable as many matches to take place as possible'.
Currently, the RFU remains at Stage D of its Return To Community Rugby Roadmap which allows clubs to take part in some time-limited contact in training and also play against other clubs in forms of touch rugby.
Bury St Edmunds have begun a Friday night floodlight showcase series with inter-club touch matches, something that Sudbury have also been doing a similar version of.
Steve Grainger, RFU rugby development director, said:“We are very keen to see competitive rugby being played again and have been pushing extremely hard to accelerate a return to contact rugby. However, we also need to be realistic about the prevalence of Covid-19 cases in society and, given the introduction of further regional restrictions, we are working with government to create alternative solutions.
“Progress has been made following productive conversations with DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and the Office of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer who have shown a willingness to work with the RFU to explore other available options.”
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: "I know that today's decision from the RFU will be disappointing to players and fans across the country, however, protecting people's health is absolutely paramount. The government is continuing to work closely with the RFU on ways in which we can bring the competitive, community game back in some form ahead of a return to full contact as soon as the public health situation allows."
Grainger added: “While many people have looked forward to contact rugby returning, we are receiving more and more feedback from clubs and players that adaptations would be acceptable. There is an increasing appetite to play an adapted format of rugby rather than having no fixtures at all.
“We will do everything we can to enable the rugby community to return to contact play as soon as we can, but our priority is to keep players, coaches, referees and volunteers safe. We will provide an update to our community clubs as soon as we can.
"We would like to once again thank everyone for their incredible efforts in implementing the necessary changes and for their continued support in keeping formats of rugby going during this challenging season.”