THE RFL Board confirmed this week that the phased introduction of controlled contact in Community Rugby League can continue in coming weeks.

Although this will create playing opportunities for for youth and junior rugby league groups, from mid October, there will be no Open Age matches for the next three months,

Although rules and regulations have tightened across the board in the past two weeks, the Government recognises the importance of team sport for physical and mental health.

The “Rule of Six” now applies to indoor team sports, it remains permissible for larger groups to take part in organised team sports outdoors under the NGB Action Plans approved by Government.

As a result controlled contact will be permitted within a training environment for all age groups from Monday September 28.

Importantly it means Youth and Junior age groups will be permitted up to four playing opportunities at two-week intervals from the weekend of October 17-18.

However, the RFL have reluctantly conceded that there can be no Open Age fixtures for the next three months.

Work continues on plans for a number of possible pilot matches as part of the preparations for a best-case scenario return of Open Age matches in January 2021.

The changes follow a scheduled review of the Community Rugby League Action Plan, and further consultation with DCMS and Sport England following this week’s announcements by Government.

Marc Lovering, the RFL’s Director of Participation and Development, said: “Our safety-first approach continues with extra risk reduction measures so that we can get some Community Rugby League on in these challenging circumstances.

“These added measures mean that sadly there will be no Open Age matches taking place in 2020 and playing opportunities for Youth and Junior age groups have been reduced. Playing opportunities will begin at Youth and Junior level in October – and we take some consolation from the fact that controlled contact will be permitted for Open Age training.

“This news will cause upset and disappointment at Community Clubs and we share those feelings as we work flat out to support the phased return of the Community game.

“We have to act responsibly as the Governing Body and member clubs together, and do all we can to demonstrate that Rugby League can be played safely - initially at Youth and Junior level.

“The Government fully recognises the vital role team sports like ours play in improving physical and mental health – which is more significant now than ever. We take every opportunity to stress those points and ensure policy makers are aware of the significant financial implications for Community Clubs from the lack of Open Age fixtures, which are vital to revenue streams.

“Ralph Rimmer represented the sport at a meeting with the Sports Minister this week and reinforced the impact of the latest restrictions on all three tiers of the game.

“We have been grateful for the financial support provided over recent months by Sport England and are hopeful of further support through the winter months to offset the impact of the restrictions we are under.

“Clearly, the situation remains fluid - the RFL Board will review the situation again before fixtures begin in October, and we would stress to all the possibility of further change at short notice.”

The rationale behind the measures, particularly why junior rugby can go ahead and not open age, has been spelled out, as have some of the restrictions.

It is easier and safer to maintain control over the number and behaviour of spectators for youth and junior fixtures.

Players will be limited to one parent/guardian during October/November with no activity planned for December.

Younger players are more open to the “turn up, play and go home” philosophy than older players who see after-match socialising as a significant part of the match day experience.

It is has been noted in other sports that socialising around sporting activity rather than the activity itself has led to several outbreaks in other sports.

There is also a greater concern around young adults in terms of infection rates. Young adults form a considerable proportion of Open Age players.

And it is has been observed that Youth and Junior games are usually less intensive and of shorter duration than Open Age games.

In terms of the rationale behind fortnightly fixtures at Youth and Junior level it will be easier and safer to deal with players having to isolate and reduce risk of infection.

It will ease pressure on facilities and ensure they remain Covid-19 secure.

And it will allow clubs to train on alternative weekends when winter training facilities are scarce and indoor facilities are not available.