Rugby’s return to stadiums without fans could involve 167 people – World Rugby

Return to play document a guideline only and remains subject to national health guidelines

Aviva Stadium: Irish rugby is financially dependent on 50,000 full houses at the Aviva for a minimum of five internationals every year. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Rugby’s return to stadiums without supporters can be achieved with 167 people, the sport’s governing body has revealed in a document entitled “Safe return to rugby in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

After consultation with multiple stakeholders, the magic number includes 16 medical personnel, including six paramedics, 58 players and 41 people working in the media.

“The return to play document is a guideline not a policy document and will always be guided by the relevant national health guidelines,” said a World Rugby spokesman after the English RFU predicted a loss of €115 million if November internationals are played behind closed doors, and €140 million if they are cancelled.

“It is therefore inaccurate to state that all rugby must be played behind closed doors until a vaccine is available.”


The Irish Government announced last Friday that rugby and other contact sports can return on August 10th but it has yet to inform the IRFU's professional squads whether that date is for training or games.

“I don’t see it being something we could recommend from a public health perspective without social distancing,” said Dr Cillian de Gascun, the virologist advising the Government, when asked about rugby’s return to full activity in August, “and assuming we are not going to have an anti-viral therapy or a vaccine for 12 to 18 months, it is difficult to recommend.

“Team sports, behind closed doors, is probably the first step . . . At some point we have to take some calculated risks because we all know we can’t stay in our current situation forever.”

Dr De Gascun, who advises against rugby returning in 2020, stated that Ireland must first conduct a "seroprevalence study" to learn what percentage of the population carried the coronavirus into lockdown. This is expected to be completed in June.

The WR "safe return" guidelines, designed to educate players and coaches while providing unions with a road map, was co-written by its chief medical officer Dr Éanna Falvey, his predecessor Martin Raftery, the president of the Royal College of Physicians Mary Horgan, and Wales rugby union medical manager Prav Mathema.

The 167 allowed into rugby stadiums is a significant drop on the Bundesliga figure of 322 essential personnel ahead of football's imminent return in Germany.

One glaring difference is the Germans have listed 50 security guards while rugby only has four. However, the World Rugby numbers make no reference to police or security working on the perimeter of the grounds.

Five internationals

Nor is there specific mention of anti-doping testers.

None of the 41 media will be from the written press, in contrast to the Bundesliga accommodating up to 30 writers with 81 working for television.

Another document, published on the World Rugby website with Mathema again a co-author, providing similar guidelines for the Pro 14 to return “assumes that spectators will not be permitted to attend”.

The IRFU lost in the region of €3 million in revenue due to the cancellation of Italy’s visit to Dublin last March. Irish rugby is financially dependent on 50,000 full houses at the Aviva Stadium for a minimum of five internationals every year.

The first step for professional rugby to return is regular testing of its athletes who will be required to sign a document that states they are fully aware of the risk to their health and the potential for “unintended transmission” to other people.

The near empty stadiums will need to provide an “appropriate stock of appropriate PPE” for medics of either team and a safe method of dispensing such equipment along with instructions that players and officials “refrain from spitting during the match”.

Ten people have been listed for “administration” but it is unclear if that covers the staff responsible for taking all 167 temperatures on entry to the ground. If someone’s temperature is over 37.5 degrees they will be sent home.

“Rugby is a contact sport,” read Dr Falvey’s medical guidelines. “To fully train and to play matches requires intermittent close physical contact. Therefore, should a teammate or opposition player in a recent match develop an infection, all their teammates are likely to be close contacts and require isolation and testing.”

The World Health Organisation recommends 14 days quarantine for anyone who comes into contact with an infected person.

“Full squad contact training requires reduction in personal social distancing measures or a specific government exemption,” WR’s medical document added.

Returning athletes who contracted Covid-19 will need two negative antigen tests 24 hours apart before they can resume training. A “cardiology assessment” is also advised for symptomatic players due to “growing evidence” that some individuals may suffer a heart attack during or after infection.

“Minimum Stakeholders” required to deliver a match

Home team players 15

Visiting team players 15

Home team substitutes and bench support 11

Visiting team substitutes and bench support 11

Home team travelling reserves 3

Visiting team travelling reserves 3

Home team roving Doctor 1

Visiting team roving Doctor 1

Home team roving Physiotherapist 1

Visiting team roving Physiotherapist 1

Home team Technical box (water carriers) 2

Visiting team Technical box (water carriers) 2

Home team Coaches box 5

Visiting team Coaches box 5

Match Day Doctor 1

Immediate Care Lead 1

Medical room video viewer 1

Paramedics 6

Other medical specialists 2

Medical room video operator 1

Security guards 4

Referee 1

Assistant Referee 2

Sideline Referees, time keeper, statistics and communications 7

Television Match Official 1

Citing Commissioner 1

Ball team and ball team supervisor 7

Match Manager 1

Match Director 1

Administration 10

Broadcaster pitch-side crew (cameramen, line runners & floor manager) 20

Commentators 6

Outside broadcasting van 15

Stadium operations 8

Big screen and PA announcer 2

TOTAL: 167

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent