Rugby bosses urge Covid booster uptake after delaying decision
Bosses say they are focusing on booster jab uptake after delaying a decision on scrums in Rugby League games in England – an element that they had hoped would return in 2022 if a large majority of players were double-vaccinated.
In October, the governing Rugby Football League (RFL) laws committee in England recommended that scrums return once teams reached an 85 percent vaccination rate.
The practice had been temporarily removed from the sport since the suspension of the 2020 season due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a handover of possession introduced in its place amid concerns that scrums presented an increased risk of transmission of the virus from player to player.
It had been hoped that scrums would return in 2021 before it was determined that the correct conditions had not been met.
The sport's chiefs had hoped scrums would be reinstated in early 2022 – but fears that the vaccination rate amongst players has plateaued has led to the final decision being delayed until late January, it was revealed on Thursday.
Recent data indicates that the vaccination rate is 80.66 percent in the Super League and 81.71 percent in the Championship. These figures, along with the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, have led to RFL chiefs hitting the panic button once more.
The figures remain marginally below the UK's adult vaccination rate of 82 percent.
"The RFL Board share the view of the Laws Committee and the wider sport that the return of scrums is desirable, especially with a view to the World Cups in England at the end of 2022," said RFL Chief Regulatory Officer Karen Moorhouse.
"Currently, everyone in a scrum would be deemed a close contact. Therefore if there was a positive case within 48 hours of a match, any unvaccinated players who had been in a scrum with the positive individual would be required to isolate for 10 days.
"In addition, the emergence of the Omicron variant since the last Laws Committee meeting has clearly changed the landscape in terms of transmissibility and the efficacy of double vaccinations – increasing the risk of positive cases and leading to a new focus on the importance of booster jab.
"We recognize this delay is far from ideal for coaches and players as they prepare for the 2022 season with ongoing uncertainty. But in a rapidly changing landscape, this is the appropriate and responsible course of action as things stand."
The RFL, though, hasn't yet taken steps to introduce a mandatory vaccination policy within the league's various structures.
It has, however, urged clubs to open dialogue with unvaccinated players to stress the importance of the jabs and their impact on the sport's return to its intended state.
"We have not mandated vaccination but we have worked with clubs to encourage their players to do their part, both for the sport and in the national battle against Covid-19," Moorhouse added.
"Considerable progress has been made over the last couple of months, with some clubs setting an outstanding lead in terms of vaccination rates, and now boosters.
"We recognize this delay is far from ideal for coaches and players as they prepare for the 2022 season with ongoing uncertainty – but in a rapidly changing landscape, this is the appropriate and responsible course of action as things stand."