Rugby is coming back.
B.C. Rugby announced it’s Return to Rugby plan July 7. But one local rugger says despite the road map, it’s not going to be an easy journey for rugby in British Columbia.
“It’s nice to see a plan,” said Paul Kelly, the captain for the Surrey Beavers. “But it won’t look like the sport we know until probably the fall of 2021.”
That interim “look” is one of small practices leading up to touch rugby and possibly a flag-style type of rugby game. B.C. Rugby’s return plan (see graphic below) consists of five phases with players currently slotted into phase two—a maximum of 50 people, a maximum of 60 minutes, all while maintaining a two-metre gap between players.
“Rugby is coming back but it’s up to all of us to make sure it’s brought back in a safe and responsible manner,” Annabel Kehoe, B.C. Rugby CEO, said in a press release. “While we won’t be returning to full-contact rugby for the foreseeable future, we’re excited to support clubs delivering modified training before progressing to non-contact rugby.”
With regular rugby only returning in phase five—when a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is available—Kelly said it’s going to be hard for clubs to survive.
“It’s good to see some training sessions will be allowed in the fall, but it’s gonna be a challenge to keep players interested.”
Kelly said his club, like many others in the province, are facing the same two challenges: lost revenue and keeping up that player interest. He said one feeds the other.
“It’s a little discouraging overall,” he explained. “We’ve had our doors closed for the last three months and we’ve missed out on a lot of revenue.”
Revenue keeps the clubs afloat, but that only comes with a full rugby season (which, in turn, creates that much-needed player interest, which generates that much-needed revenue).
He said rugby players’ interest will be hard to maintain without games. He added people don’t play rugby to run around in light, non-contact training sessions for weeks or months on end. They play to smash each other on the pitch.
“There is zero interest right now. Until we see light at the end of the tunnel, I don’t see many players hanging around hoping that something will change.”
B.C. Rugby’s restart plan offers no hope either. In phase four—scheduled to start in January of 2021—it notes that only “small-sided” training games can be played at clubs and that only “B.C. Rugby administered inter-club games” will be allowed.
Kelly said the outlook’s even worse for B.C. rugby clubs if you factor in the loss of the high school rugby season—a pipeline for rugby clubs to gain new players.
“We get a lot of high school players,” Kelly explained. “Unless they go away for university, they usually come out and play for us. But now those players are already out of the regular loop of playing rugby. Are they going to pick it up in the fall of 2021? For some, that could be nearly two and half years since they played their last rugby game.”
Kelly noted some older players may retire rather than wait until the fall of 2021 to resume playing.
“Your body takes a beating in this game. Some older players might say, ‘I haven’t played for 18 months.’ It’s gonna be interesting, but I think a lot of clubs will suffer.”
Kelly explained the Beavers’ Cloverdale clubhouse, the Beaverlodge, has been sitting idle so he’s been trying to organize a few social-distanced events in an effort to gain some revenue and open a connective conduit between players and their club. “We’re trying to do smaller functions at the club to keep revenue coming in.”
Kelly added, “This is the biggest challenge we’ve faced since our clubs’ inception [in 1970]. Our clubhouse burned down about 10 years ago and we rebuilt. It’s going to be challenging, but we’ll rebuild from this too.”
More information about B.C. Rugby’s return to play program can be found on their website at bcrugby.com.