Following a lengthy hiatus, grassroots rugby league has returned to many communities as part of NSWRL and the NSW Government’s Return to Sport Framework.
Once local clubs showed compliance to NSWRL’s COVID-19 regulations they were able to commence training without any deliberate body contact or sharing of sporting equipment. These activities won’t be permitted until July 1st leaving many teams to focus on fitness exercises and stamina drills as a means to prepare for the upcoming shortened season and get in shape for games.
Coach of the local St Christopher’s Division 1 team, Anthony Sahyoun described the process of returning to play under the current circumstances as tedious and difficult.
“Following the results of last season where we won the whole comp this was a quick way to kill our momentum and although it’s good to be back, we’ve got work to do.”
“Having to slowing ramp up training sessions from non-contact to full contact will be a task and getting the game fitness of all our players up to speed will also be a challenge, but it’s what we’ve got to do in order for us and the kids to stay safe.”
The COVID-19 regulations implemented by NSWRL will also limit the way spectators watch the games. The arrangements will be limiting only one parent to attend games and people who are presenting ‘flu-like symptoms’ or recently traveled overseas will be potentially barred from attending games all together to prevent any risk of spreading the virus to fellow players and spectators.
“At the end of the day, these regulations make sense because all it takes is one slip up and one person to fall through the cracks and a whole field is exposed to the virus and the whole league is at risk of being shut down again” Anthony said.
The changes implemented will also see a heavy cleaning regime become compulsory across all venues for games and sanitiser and cleaning stations to become prevalent at all fields. With over 100,000 youth players and club officials returning to the sport over the coming weeks, the NSWRL Chief Executive David Trodden stated that these were the best measures to be taken in order to limit and prevent the spread of the virus at sporting grounds.
Since the framework has been introduced many players have been vocal about the changes with a large portion stressing the importance of slowly easing into the sport and the effects it has had on their physical as well as mental health. Local St Christopher’s player, Marcus Roberts said that it had definitely taken a toll on him and his teammates, describing it as crucial but tiring.
“Being back in the swing if things feels good, but mentally it’s taken some time to get back into the mindset of being around my teammates playing footy for the first time in months … my game fitness isn’t there and being out of the house playing sports still feels kind of weird but I’m getting there, we’re all getting there.”
“Physically we’re all pretty out of shape but that’s no surprise and we’re getting back to being game-ready, slowly but surely.” Roberts said.
Currently on the NSWRL Return to Play Roadmap the grassroots leagues are sitting on the second step and won’t reach the third and final step until the first day of next month.
The current restrictions mean that indoor and outdoor training sessions can occur in groups of up to 20 people with adequate social distancing. Spectators are also allowed to be present at training sessions, granted they abide by the one spectator per 4×2 metre rule. Next month will mark the return of full contact training without restrictions for the first time in months a call that Anthony Sahyoun described as a huge moment for the grassroots teams with football being such an integral part of many local communities across NSW.
On July 12th the government announced a $23.7 million recovery package to assist the regrowth of the sports sector after the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the entirety of the industry.
The Minister for Sports the Hon. Dr Geoff Lee MP announced that the package will include “financial support and assistance for grassroots sporting organisations, State Sporting Organisations and State Sporting Organisations for people with disabilities and the Regional Academies of Sport.”
With football edging closer and closer to its return date of July 1st these guidelines have been implemented in order to lower the risk of spreading the virus while getting youths active for the first time since the leagues getting suspended in mid-March.