Australian Medical Association slams ‘absurd’ NRL crowd plan

FILE PHOTO: The South Sydney Rabbitohs of the National Rugby League (NRL) train amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Redfern Oval in Sydney, Australia, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

SYDNEY (Reuters) – National Rugby League plans to have limited crowds at matches by the start of July was described as “absurd” and “dangerous” by the head of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) on Tuesday.

The NRL, which will resume its season on Thursday without spectators after a 10-week suspension because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has suggested crowds could return to stadiums with social distancing and biosecurity measures in place.

However, AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said the plan was a major risk to public health.

“Put bluntly, this absurd and dangerous idea belongs in the sin bin,” he said in a statement.

“The NRL should be satisfied that it has its competition back in action, but it is unfair and unwise to put the health of the game’s fans at risk.

“Now is not the time for sporting codes to be considering having crowds at games. They must wait until the medical experts advise that it is absolutely safe to do so – and that will not be as early as July.”

Rugby league chief Peter V’landys was widely derided when he announced the resumption of the season would take place on May 28, only to be vindicated by events.

Australia has been successful in containing COVID-19 and restrictions have been gradually eased across the country as the rate of new cases each day has fallen to single digits.

Bartone, however, said it was important that a decision on when to let crowds back into stadiums should be made by medical experts in consultation with the government — not the NRL.

“Of course, we all want to see sport return with fans in the stands barracking for their teams,” he added.

“But the public health must come first. Getting beyond the COVID-19 pandemic is bigger than rugby league – it is about the safety of all Australians.”

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