Super League players to make ‘individual choices’ over taking a knee
Players will again be given the opportunity to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement when the rugby league season gets under way on Friday night.
The Rugby Football League re-iterated its commitment to “Tackle It”, a five-year action plan designed to combat all forms of discrimination, at a pre-season media briefing, which also covered law changes and the continuing impact of Covid-19.
The decision to invite players to take the knee before kick-off when Super League resumed last August brought mixed reactions and RFL media manager Andy Donnelly says any gestures in 2021 will be at the players’ discretion.
Donnelly says clubs have been informed that matches at all levels will start with a 13-second window which will see players lining up to face the dug-outs.
“It’s an opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to racism in their own way if they so wish, especially the ones that didn’t get an opportunity last year,” Donnelly said. “There is no RFL mandate, it’s about individual choice.
“It will be player led and we are keen for players to be respected for their individual choices and to feel comfortable doing whatever they choose to do in that 13-second window.”
Players have also been told that try celebrations will remain banned as the fight continues to combat the coronavirus threat.
Laura Fairbank, the RFL’s new head of medical, says players will be encouraged to elbow tap and that fines will remain in place for those who over-step.
“We’ve gone though the education process with the players,” she said. “Fines are still in place but, if community rates of infection continue to go down, we will relax the regulations.”
Fairbank says players will undergo lateral flow testing – twice weekly during the season – which means results are returned within 30 minutes rather than 48 hours from a PCR test and will incur less expense for clubs.
Scrums will remain absent from the early part of the season in an effort to reduce the amount of close contact but the intention to bring them back as soon as it is felt safe.
Professor Ben Jones, the RFL’s head of performance, told the briefing that recent data shows the risk of transmission in rugby league matches is lower than first thought but the league will proceed with caution.
“January and February saw more cases in Super League than in the whole of last year,” he said. “As community prevalence comes down, that is a positive for us as we’re likely to get less cases.
“We still feel the need to be cautious because it’s a virus we’ve only been dealing with for 12 months.
“With the emergency rules in places, it’s definitely safer.”
Meanwhile, RFL chief on-field officer Dave Rotheram says the rule changes introduced this year will mean the RFL laws are now more aligned with international rules than those in the NRL.
However, Super League referee Robert Hicks, who is the governing body’s head of legal, says the RFL has fallen into line with the NRL over the ball-steal and anticipates controversy over the new interpretation which allows players to tactically fall off a tackle in order to avoid being penalised.
“To be very candid, this is going to be very, very difficult for referees,” Hicks said. “You are talking about a split second to decide whether it’s right or wrong.
“We’ve done quite a bit of work on it in pre-season. We expect it to be a challenge and the reality is that this will happen at key points in big games.
“This is the way the game wanted to go – the laws committee thought it was adding excitement – and one more talking point about referees is not going to make any difference.”