There is finally a glimmer of hope that there could be some rugby league played in North America in 2020 after all, specifically north of the 49th parallel.
In particular, it is possible that games could be played in the autumn in the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta as their respective provincial governments are easing restrictions put in place to fight off COVID-19 faster than their counterparts in the east.
“Given the current situation in Canada, BC is moving along with reopening at a faster pace than other provinces,” Canada Rugby League Association (CRLA) President Bob Jowett told Rugby League Planet.
“And as health issues are provincial responsibilities, meaning that guidance varies from province to province, the CRLA has taken the stance that it is for provincial governing bodies to decide when play can restart, provided that the body produces a return-to-play guide that is acceptable to the CRLA and that all provincial guidelines/restrictions are followed (and municipal limits if appropriate).”
The CRLA initially decided to suspend the Canadian season in April and has extended the suspension twice since, basing its decisions largely on recommendations by Canadian health experts.
Ontario has been affected more so than the western provinces as its season is usually staged in the summer months, which means that it would have been underway right now.
In BC, a 9s tournament that had been scheduled for May 30 was scrapped due to the global pandemic. Their regular season was due to start this weekend (June 13), although that has also been postponed at least for the time being.
The Alberta regular season normally kicks off in September, meaning there is a chance that it could go ahead as normal, or perhaps even earlier, depending on advice from the provincial government.
One of the few positives to come out of the pandemic situation for rugby league is that Rugby Canada decided months ago that there wouldn’t be games in the 15-man code until January 2021, leaving the door ajar for league to be the only rugby code to be played in the late autumn in the west.
“We didn’t want to follow that path and crush everybody’s hopes,” said CRLA Vice-President and Canada West team director Josh Knight. “As the different provinces are working out COVID-19 restrictions, and they’re changing every day, it’s up to the provinces to work on their own protocols.”
Knight says if restrictions are eased further and earlier out west, rugby league could benefit, especially in Alberta.
“If so, then all those union players that were maybe thumbing their noses at rugby league might go well, it’s this or nothing because there’s nothing else to play.”
As for BC, Knight says ideally the league competition could be pushed back for a September or October start.
“Return-to-play is being discussed in BC and Alberta,” added Jowett.
“It looks likely that limited training will start soon, possibly before the end of June, however, it still looks as if there won’t be any games until at least September.
“That said, guidance changes day to day so anything is possible!”