Australia's NRL plans to return from COVID-19 shutdown on May 28

  • Rugby
  • Thursday, 09 Apr 2020

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) announced on Thursday that it intends to resume its 2020 season, interrupted by the coronavirus outbreak after two rounds, on May 28.

No details were released of how the season would be structured, or the conditions under which matches would be played, but current Australian government restrictions would certainly rule out the attendance of any fans.

"I'm pleased to announce we're planning a competition start on May 28," Australian Rugby League (ARL) commissioner Wayne Pearce said.

"The details on the competition structure we haven't got yet because the landscape is changing around government boundaries. That will feed into the complexity structure.

"Today what we landed on was a starting date."

The NRL, the most popular winter league in Australia's eastern coastal states, has been desperate to resume the season and forestall what ARL chief Peter V'Landys has warned would be "catastrophic" financial consequences for teams.

The financial woes would largely be triggered by the loss of television revenue by failing to fulfil their broadcast contracts.

The relationship with one of those broadcasters looked to be extremely strained on Thursday after a spokesman for Channel Nine, who pay A$185 million ($114.83 million) a year for their rights, launched a broadside at NRL management.

"At Nine we had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020, brought on so starkly by COVID-19," the spokesman said.

"But this health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years.

"Nine has invested hundreds of millions in this game over decades and we now find they have profoundly wasted those funds with very little to fall back on to support the clubs, the players and supporters.

"We find ourselves with a contract that is unfulfilled by the code. We hoped we could talk through a long-term plan."

Pearce, nevertheless, said Nine Entertainment was a "key partner" for Australian rugby league.

"We intend to fulfil our contractual obligations and hopefully we can maintain a working relationship that will work for both parties," he told reporters.

($1 = 1.6111 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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