The 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership season looks likely to be disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the same way the previous campaign was.
Leicester Tigers have reported “several” positive tests and have therefore been forced to cancel all training due to an outbreak of the virus ahead of their opening fixture against Gloucester Rugby on November 21.
Whilst there is currently no suggestion that the game will be cancelled, Leicester have been forced to shut down their Oval Park training centre and it is uncertain as to whether they will be able to field a full strength side for the opening game of the new season.
The players and staff with positive test results are currently isolating and following the protocols that were put in place to reduce the risk of cases spreading.
Following the latest round of Premiership Rugby’s COVID-19 screening programme, there were 17 positive samples from 718 tests carried out on players and staff in the latest round of pre-season testing.
“Leicester Tigers have taken the decision to stop all team training and close the club’s Oval Park training ground facility following a COVID-19 outbreak within the camp,” a statement read.
We have made the decision to pause all training commitments and close the training ground in a bid to maintain the integrity of the 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership season, as well as honouring our responsibilities to the Leicestershire community.— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) November 5, 2020
ℹ️ https://t.co/yQzLgdHtTC pic.twitter.com/omWpP9scke
“The club returned several positive tests for COVID-19 earlier this week following the latest round of Premiership Rugby’s COVID-19 screening programme, including members of the playing group and support staff.“
The hope is that the club will have contained the virus and stopped the spread, meaning that they will still be able to participate against Gloucester.
Will COVID-19 invalidate the 2020/21 season?
In these times it is very hard for sport and rugby in particular to keep the integrity of the competition.
The season is rammed full will fixtures with every weekend up until June 2021 hosting a competitive game, so matches can not be postponed or rescheduled.
It is inevitable that some fixtures won’t go ahead and in the worst case, this could have a major impact on the outcome of the Premiership.
John Inverdale, the rugby broadcaster, thinks this will have drastic consequences.
“Even if next season is normal and the fixtures are all in place, my concern is that the number of people getting excited about it may be 15-20% down on what it would have been a year earlier,” said Inverdale to The Guardian.
“Financially, but also in terms of the relevance of the sport, that makes a big difference. We can’t afford to allow players and spectators to drift away from the game and for sponsors to find other places to invest their money. They need something to hang their hat on.”
If people aren’t watching rugby because there are too many forfeited games, then the sponsors will quickly disappear and leave the sport in a situation that two weeks of self-isolation won’t resolve.