RFL to tell clubs to fulfil fixtures or forfeit them in event of Covid outbreaks
Clubs will be ordered to forfeit matches in the event of Covid outbreaks in 2022 under new rules being prepared by the Rugby Football League.
The governing body has written to all clubs informing them that failure to fulfil a fixture in the new season will result in the match being awarded to the opposition with a score of 48-0.
The changes, which are still to be ratified by the RFL board, come after the governing body agreed that final league positions should no longer be determined by points percentage.
The move is as an attempt to return to the previous norm where the fulfilment of fixtures was seen as sacrosanct. It also takes into account a relaxation of Covid restrictions as well as criticism of the previous system.
Points percentage was introduced in September 2020 after the effects of the pandemic began to take their toll on the resumed Betfred Super League, with officials acknowledging the possibility that clubs would not be able to play all their games.
The system was retained for Super League in 2021 and extended to cover both the Championship and League 1, which remained suspended in 2020 and were also hit by postponements last year.
Clubs were able to apply for a cancellation if they had seven or more players unavailable due to the impact of the pandemic and a total of 21 Super League fixtures were called off with only a handful rearranged.
Wigan were the only Super League club to fulfil all their fixtures in the regular season while Toulouse managed to play just 14 of their scheduled 22 matches on their way to winning promotion from the Championship.
A statement from the RFL said: “Clubs in Betfred Super League, Championship and League 1 were advised in late 2021, after relevant regulatory meetings, of the intention to introduce a revised framework for 2022 in case of inability to fulfil fixtures, recognising the changing Covid-19 landscape.
“That remains the intention, although as with the situation regarding scrums, it will remain under review through January before the start of the league season.”
Under the proposals, clubs failing to fulfil league fixtures will be deemed to have lost 48-0 while teams will receive byes if their opponents pull out of the Challenge Cup and 1895 Cup.
Previously league games were awarded as 24-0 victories but, following feedback from clubs and the RFL’s laws committee, it was felt a harsher penalty was needed.
In addition, clubs failing to fulfil fixtures face the prospect of a misconduct charge and sanctions could include the payment of compensation to their opponents.
Castleford, Huddersfield and Salford were all fined in 2021 for breaches of Covid rules that led to postponements.
The RFL plans to hold consultations with clubs over the next fortnight before making a final decision. The Championship season kicks off on January 29, with Super League starting on February 10.
The RFL board must also make a final decision before the end of January on whether to bring back scrums, which have been suspended since the resumption of Super League in the summer of 2020.
The RFL’s laws committee recommended that scrums should return in 2022 if 85 per cent of players across the Super League and Championship had been double vaccinated but that threshold had not been met by the deadline of December 31.