April 24 (Reuters) - Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) is determined to resume its 2020 season on May 28 despite misgivings by one of its broadcasters due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league commission chairman Peter V’Landys said on Friday.
The NRL, the most popular winter sport in Australia’s eastern coastal states, was interrupted after two rounds but said this month it would return in May, although no details were given of how the season would be structured.
After one of the league’s two broadcasters Channel Nine - which pays A$185 million ($117 million) a year for television rights - described the resumption date as “premature”, V’Landys said he was convinced it would be safe to play.
“This is like a boxing match, you take a few blows to the head, a few body blows, but you save your best punches to the end,” he said in an interview on a Channel Nine programme.
“I think you’ll find on May 28 we will start and we won’t be a problem.”
V’Landys, the head of the independent board that oversees the game, said he also expected to make a decision on Friday on the length of the season, a point of difference between Nine and fellow NRL broadcaster Foxtel.
“We have two different broadcasters, one has a different view to the other. Today is D-Day for me. A decision will be made as to the length of the season,” he added.
“We will meet our contractual obligation to the broadcasters but a decision has to be made.”
Australia has so far avoided the high coronavirus death toll of other countries, with only 78 deaths, largely as a result of tough restrictions on movement that have brought public life to a standstill.
V’Landys said he was confident it was much safer to resume the league now with the rate of infection dropping.
“The facts are for the last 12 days in New South Wales the infection rate has been less than 1%. When we suspended play on the last round the infection rate was 25.5%,” he said.
“The health experts then said we could play, so what’s the difference? The difference is that it’s much safer now and it’ll be safer in five weeks than it ever has been.
“Why are we going to rob our fans and players because of scaremongering and alarmist rhetoric?”
$1 = 1.5768 Australian dollars Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin