Six Nations still waiting on green light from French government

Organisers are waiting to hear back from French government for the go-ahead

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, Italy captain Luca Bigi, Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, France captain Charles Ollivon and England captain Owen Farrell during the Six Nations virtual launch. Photo: Inpho

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, Italy captain Luca Bigi, Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, France captain Charles Ollivon and England captain Owen Farrell during the Six Nations virtual launch. Photo: Inpho

 

The organisers of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations are still waiting for approval from the French government for the tournament to be completed en bloc. While the French team have been given the go-ahead to travel to Rome on the opening weekend, the government has yet to give the give the green light for them to travel to Dublin for their scheduled round two fixture on St Valentine’s Day.

French Minister of Sport, Roxana Maracineanu, has not made any more pronouncements since seeking assurances that the Covid-19 protocols in Ireland and UK are as strict as those in France, although an announcement is expected before the end of this week. The Six Nations have been in regular dialogue with the French government through the FFR, whose president Bernard Laporte remains confident that his government’s concerns will be allayed and the Six Nations CEO, Ben Morel, remains confident that all remaining issues will be resolved.

“We have reinforced our testing protocols based on the evolving situation, with the main point being we are doubling up on the testing and in the week prior to entering the international camp,” said Morel at the tournament’s virtual launch.

“In terms of the French authorities, we are in constant dialogue through the FFR. We have provided all our protocols, we have been considered as extremely robust and we are seeking some of the clarification on the specific rules about quarantine exemptions and that is what we are expecting further clarification from, which would look at entry from the UK, whether it is re-entry for the French teams or entry for the other unions.

“That is what we are dealing with. We are confident we will get the right authorisation. We are waiting for the final confirmation.”

Ireland

Asked if there was a Plan B in the event of the French government deciding that they do not want their team to travel to the UK and Ireland, Morel said: “There isn’t a particular issue with Ireland.

“Ireland is in the EU community and there it is PCR required, and all our protocols are in place for that to happen. We don’t anticipate a problem there. The only thing we are waiting for a green-light and clarification on is that seven-day isolation and to who that applies. At the same time I think we’re confident based on our protocols that that will be a positive outcome.”

With Scotland and Wales subsequently due to travel to Paris in rounds three and five, either side of France going to Twickenham, any demand for seven-day periods of isolation either way would jeopardise the chances of the tournament being completed as scheduled.

“Generally elite sport benefits from widespread exemptions because they have stringent protocols,” said Morel. “What we are awaiting is the detail on the exemption and we need to understand: is the exemption for the players, for the operational staff, for both? Anyone that is coming from the UK, that doesn’t have an exemption, we need clarity on whether that applies and to whom - that is when you are coming from the UK or any other non-EU country. We believe that exemptions are being given on a case-by-case. That is the green light that we are waiting on.”

Conceivably therefore, the Scottish and Welsh squads might have to travel to Paris a week in advance.

“We are looking at a series of contingencies,” Morel admitted, “but we do not expect to get that problem. If that was the case, Scotland is playing on fallow weekends, Wales is coming from Italy, so there are solutions. So we are confident in our ability to stage the matches at the right time, it’s more what logistical gymnastics we need to adapt to.”

Hard decision

Morel confirmed that a March/April/May slot was still the preferred option for the postponed Women’s Six Nations.

“We are working very hard. Obviously, it was a very hard decision to have to take this but it was mainly driven by the amateur status of many of our athletes and it was definitely the reasonable route to take. We’re definitely looking at a later window in the spring, we are having to factor multiple elements in.

“It’s a Rugby World Cup year, some of our unions are still in the process of qualifying for that event and others are eager to prepare appropriately for the event so we are in the process of finalising that. Further details probably early next week.”

Likewise, Morel indicated that an announcement confirming that the private equity firm CVC is to purchase 14.5 per cent of the commercial rights for the Six Nations as part of a five-year deal worth €409 million is likely to be made before the commencement of the 2021 tournament.

The respective Unions and Federations have been reviewing the main terms of the partnership with their boards for the last few weeks, while Laporte has already declared the FFR’s approval. England and France will claim the biggest shares of a deal which seems sure to see some games move to pay-per-view from 2022 onwards, with the IRFU set to receive in the region of €45-50 million.

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