Contingency plan

Peni Matawalu the Suva halfback delivers the ball against Nadroga in the Skipper cup final. Picture ATU RASEA/FILE

THE Fiji Rugby Union have been using its contingency plan to keep them on track during the Covid-19 outbreak and its effects on the sport globally affecting players, businesses, unions and everything related to rugby.

Fiji has proven to be one of the countries that develop and groom international rugby stars and is witnessed around the world from Europe, USA, Asia, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The nation continues to groom and develop future stars in its local rugby competitions from grassroots level to the national team and the local rugby headquarter plays a vital role in trying to keep everything in control during this crisis as the economy suffers the wrath of Covid-19.

FRU chief executive officer John O’Connor said they’d been improvising and using their resources wisely so that they kept everything under control.

“Our main priority is the safety and welfare of the players,” he said.

“All contact sports remain closed until the government gives the OK, but then we have to see whether we are able to host competitions with fans and spectators present.

“That’s another issue but we have set a plan to air the games live on television stations if social gathering is still in place.

“We are not only concerned of the safety and welfare of the players but the public as well as we want to keep the numbers down.

“If large gathering is still banned then only players, coaches and the match officials would be allowed in the premises.”

O’Connor says financially Rugby House acknowledges the corporate sponsors for keeping their end of the deal despite the situation enabling the competition to complete its full format of matches.

“Like other affected businesses, we had to cut down the number of hours and days our staffs work in order to keep everyone employed at FRU and the same goes to the players, coaches and administrators that have contracts,” he said.

“We had to minimise our expenses and wait for another funding from World Rugby that will carry us through during this difficult time but thanks to our sponsors for being on our side.

“Our local competitions are just waiting for the government approval and the sponsors remain intact and that’s good news to the unions and players because we won’t cut the number of games and the different categories of local competitions to be played.

“We’ve set for July 11 to kick-start our competitions and if it goes to plan then we’re looking at October to finish off all rugby matches,” said O’Connor.

The FRU has been working with the Ministry of Health to ensure the safety of the players and their wellbeing.

“We are working with the Ministry of Health waiting for the government restrictions to ease and allow for people to train and for games to take place then we will plan with the unions for the kick-off date,” said O’Connor.

Rugby House will only allow for the competition to start, if the unions adhere to the Return to Play Protocol.

“We have a Return to Play Protocol that is been guided by World Rugby and discussed by the Ministry of Health that any union or club must follow to avoid any injury to the players.

“The minimum time a player should be ready for contact sports is four weeks so when the restrictions are lifted and we are allowed to train, we give players at least four weeks to prepare themselves physically and mentally before the competition kicks off.

“We also have the Return to Play Protocols for government requirements if they want us to consider the number of spectators, whether physical distancing is still required and what measure are taken to ensure the safety of the spectators and the players,” said O’Connor.

Meanwhile the FRU will also negotiate with World Rugby on its plans to schedule a later date or cancel their competitions against international teams for the Flying Fijians and the Fiji 7s team.

“We were supposed to play Tonga, Samoa and Australia in July but it seems that it wouldn’t take place because of COVID-19 and travel restrictions.

“But we’ve discussed with World Rugby on the possibility of moving those Test matches into October and November but provided if the travel restrictions is lifted and the requirements of quarantine
and other safety protocols to ease,” said O’Connor.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Nations Cup matches against Tonga on July 4 and against Samoa on July 11 will be scheduled for a later date.

The Flying Fijians are also scheduled to play the New Zealand XV in Vancouver on October 31, then they face Wales on November 7 on the Autumn Test matches.

They take on the French Barbarians on November 14 and Georgia on November 21 in Europe.

“We’ve scheduled numerous Test matches for the Flying Fijians and this is a step towards their buildup for the next Rugby World Cup and facing some tier one teams will benefit our players during their preparation.

“We continue to discuss these matches with World Rugby and we hope that they will give us the green light if flight restrictions are lifted and quarantine measures are also removed.”

However the remaining four tournaments in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series will be decided in a few weeks’ time.

Former Samoa and New Zealand 7s team head coach Sir Gordon Tietjens said with no vaccine available to cure the virus, the remaining four tournaments would be decided in a few weeks’ time.

“We don’t know whether we will postpone or cancel the remaining tournaments in the series and that decision will be made soon and with no vaccine, it’s likely to be cancelled and that goes the same for the Olympics next year,” said Tietjens.

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