So just weeks in to pre-season, Widnes coach Simon Finnigan and his players have been forced to down tools by the RFL.
They could have continued even in lockdown, owing to the Championship’s status as an “elite sport”, but the governing body have made the decision to pause all activity outside of Super League in light of the current public health situation and the rapid spread of coronavirus.
It immediately raises questions of the feasibility of starting the season at the end of next month, particularly as there is no estimate as yet as to when this latest lockdown may end.
Initially, it is a two week period that clubs have been instructed to stop. What happens beyond that remains to be seen.
The latest lockdown will no doubt boost online shopping sales, online casinos in the UK and all other online businesses; but could have grave consequences on other industries.
Sport is of course one of those affected. While there was a general acceptance that the season may well have to start behind closed doors, it was hoped it would only be for a few weeks.
That was one of the reasons that Challenge Cup games, not often budgeted in to club finances, were front loaded at the start of the season; to give clubs games to play, but without taking away revenue opportunities later in the season.
While clubs just about survived through 2020 thanks to furlough, 2021 represents additional challenges. Players can’t be furloughed if they are training or playing, while any new players cannot be furloughed either.
So to pay salaries deep in to the year with no crowds, simply isn’t a viable solution.
Nobody could have predicted what has happened over the past 12 months, nor can anyone predict what will happen in the next 12. The roll-out of a vaccine will hopefully provide some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just whether rugby league can make it to the end of that tunnel.
For Widnes, it’s unclear exactly what financial state they are in. Clearly scrapping the academy shows a need to save money – although that’s probably a debate for another article – but with one of the largest fanbases in the division, a strong group of local sponsors and the support of VIQI money, it’s surely better off than most.
Fans have asked about season tickets, which are yet to go on sale, but I think it is wise of the club to refrain from selling these as yet.
What they don’t want to do is be faced with having to dish out refunds at some point in the season, which will put a hole in the finances. At least with this pragmatic approach, they can make an informed decision at all times – without having to tug on the heartstrings of fans further down the line.
I’m sure you, like me, yearn for the day that we can be back at the Halton Stadium watching live rugby league.
Even seeing Widnes play behind closed doors would be a step up.
It’s been a long 10 months and counting…
The way I understand it with the new furlough scheme is that if players train less the government will still pick up a portion of the bill. Thus if the players are in for 1 session instead of 4 the club will play 25% of the wages and the government will pay 75%. It’s a mystery to me why the RFL have made this decision surely it should be up to individual clubs.