‘Dangerous idea belongs in the sin bin’: AMA rejects NRL crowds plan

The Australian Medical Association has urged the NRL to abandon its plans to reintroduce some crowds to games as soon as July 1, calling the idea “absurd and dangerous”.

The league will resume from the coronavirus shutdown on Thursday night when the Brisbane Broncos play the Parramatta Eels at Lang Park.

Games will begin behind closed doors, but the improving situation regarding the pandemic may have shifted the goalposts, with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’Landys telling news outlets on the weekend the NRL was exploring the possibilities of bringing fans back.

“We’re on the moon,” V’landys told the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday. “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.”

The AMA, 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.

“They must wait until the medical experts advise that it is absolutely safe to do so — and that will not be as early as July.

“Of course, we all want to see sport return with fans in the stands barracking for their teams. We also want to see theatre, dance, live music, cinemas, and other entertainments open to the public.

“But the public health must come first. Getting beyond the COVID-19 pandemic is bigger than rugby league — it is about the safety of all Australians.”

The AMA highlighted the slow return to sport in Europe without crowds and praised the AFL for their cautious approach to wait for expert medical advice.

However, the NRL has said it will act only on the instruction of government and expert advice and is planning to submit its proposal to authorities.

The league would also implement strict biosecurity measures around any return to crowds.

The limited number of fans would be scanned by a thermal camera on the entry to grounds and would need to have the government’s COVID-Safe app downloaded.

Some matches would also be played in bigger venues, with Sydney’s Olympic stadium’s capacity far higher than that of a suburban ground.