Rugby League fans will return to the Betfred Super League in England on Wednesday, September 30 after the Government granted permission for four fixtures to be staged as pilot events.
Attendances of 1,000 will be permitted at the games, which include the traditional derby fixture between Wigan Warriors and St Helens at the DW Stadium – their first meeting of the 2020 season, which will also be broadcast live by Sky Sports.
The other three fixtures granted pilot event status are: Castleford Tigers versus Hull FC; Huddersfield Giants versus Hull KR; and Leeds Rhinos versus Catalans Dragons.
Further details of the arrangements for all four fixtures will be provided by the relevant clubs.
Sports pilots are not able to take place in areas with high coronavirus incidence rates. For this reason the Salford Red Devils v Warrington Wolves fixture, also scheduled for September 30, has not joined the approved list for spectators in the pilot programme.
Nigel Huddleston MP, Sports Minister, said: “We recognise that many RFL clubs are operating on very tight financial margins and the professional game is facing unprecedented pressure but we are doing all we can to help.
“On top of the recent £16 million emergency support we have provided to safeguard the immediate future of the sport, I am pleased that we are working closely with the RFL to run a number of capped, covid secure, and socially distanced pilots during the remainder of September. This will help us continue to build the evidence base to assess how fans can return in greater numbers, as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Ralph Rimmer, RFL CEO, said: “The return of crowds is vital to sports including Rugby League. Pilot events are steps in the right direction, demonstrating that socially distanced crowds can be managed, and we are delighted that Rugby League will add to this learning across the sports sector.
“We continue to work closely with Government, with other sports, and with local authority partners. Betfred Super League clubs have worked exceptionally hard and all are ready to host socially distanced crowds.
“Speaking with the Secretary of State yesterday, I joined other sports CEOs and Chairs to stress that sport is ready and now needs a clear roadmap for the return of at first limited then larger crowds which allows for flexibility where required. Government understands that this is crucial to club finances and to jobs.
“We know the presence of fans in the ground for these four Betfred Super League fixtures will be a major boost to all involved – especially the players, who thrive on the atmosphere provided by Rugby League’s passionate supporters.
“We are also delighted that Sky Sports will be able to televise the first meeting of the season between Wigan and St Helens, with the added bonus of a crowd.”
Robert Elstone, Executive Chairman, Super League said: “It is crucial that crowds are allowed back into Super League venues as soon as it is safe, so we welcome the Government’s decision to include our matches on September 30 in the programme of pilot events.
“Matchday revenue is essential to the business models of our clubs and the introduction of up to 1,000 spectators will help us to form a better understanding of how and when we can introduce larger crowds. Pilot events have worked well in other sports and Super League venues are well-equipped to host their own.”