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Men's rugby league NRL’s plan to have fans in stadiums slammed by medical body

TWO days away from the restart of the National Rugby League season, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has urged organisers to slow down in its plans to have spectators in stadiums by July 1, describing the move as “absurd and dangerous.”

Just two rounds of matches were played before the season was halted in March amid the coronavirus pandemic. The NRL announced a revised 16-round schedule last week and the league will be the first full-contact football back in action when the Broncos and Parramatta meet tomorrow in Brisbane.

There will be no spectators at the matches, a situation that Australian Rugby League chairman Peter V’Landys hopes will change soon as social-distancing restrictions and border closures are eased.

“We’re on the moon,” V’landys told local media on Sunday of the so-called Project Apollo, the league’s push to get back on the field. “We’re looking for Mars now. We want to see in the next three weeks if the infection rate is altered in any fashion. If it hasn’t, we’ll be pushing very hard for crowds … capped crowds. We’re looking at July 1.”

Australia’s leading doctors’ association, however, warned that July would be too soon to think about making a change.

“Put bluntly, this absurd and dangerous idea belongs in the sin bin,” AMA president Tony Bartone said in a statement. “The NRL should be satisfied that it has its competition back in action, but it is unfair and unwise to put the health of the game’s fans at risk.

“They must first monitor the health and safety of the players and officials who will be involved in the thick of the on-field action.”

The AMA highlighted the slow return to sport in Europe without crowds and praised the Australian Football League — Australian rules football — for its cautious approach to wait for expert medical advice.

Stringent controls and early border closures have contributed to Australia having only 102 deaths from Covid-19 and just over 7,100 cases.

The federal government has announced a three-phase plan to ease restrictions in the coming months, with the states and territories to determine their own timings. But social distancing and hygiene measures will be retained indefinitely.

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