Peter V’landys has declared the NRL has permission to resume the competition “tomorrow if we wanted to” as clubs and players sweat on the outcome of next week’s peace talks between the ARL Commission chairman and Nine chief executive Hugh Marks.
Headlines were triggered on Good Friday when NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he had not spoken to V’landys or chief executive Todd Greenberg for more than a month and Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said the NRL was not "a law unto themselves".
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys.Credit:AAP
“They’re making their plans for the road out [of the suspension of sport] and I encourage them to do so in other sports. But whether May is the time will remain to be seen and definitely they’ll need to get some permission to do that."
V’landys is adamant they already have it and rang Hazzard on Friday to remind him that state public health orders signed last week did not prevent sporting events like NRL matches taking place. He also told the Herald the game also had gained written authority to resume from NSW State Emergency Operations Centre.
In reality we could do it tomorrow if we wanted to, but we’re not going to because we’re going to let the infection rate continue its stabilisation.
“We’re exempted in the health order … and also we’ve been working with the relevant authorities and we’ve got it in writing,” V'landys said.
“In reality we could do it tomorrow if we wanted to, but we’re not going to because we’re going to let the infection rate continue its stabilisation.
“What we have juggled is to make sure we are no threat to the community’s health by spreading the virus. But I can’t see how we spread the virus if the players who are going there are all negative and playing each other in a sterile situation when we know they’re all negative.
“We’ve got to go back to some sort of normality at some point in time. We just can’t be like this for the rest of our lives. And we would not do it if the risk wasn’t so low. We were playing and were allowed to play at 23 per cent infection rate. It’s down to 1.48 per cent. You should be able to get back.”
V’landys’ more immediate concern is settling the code’s feud with Nine, the publisher of the Herald.
He is meet with Marks next week to update the free-to-air broadcaster on the resumption of the competition devised by the Project Apollo innovation committee.
But those talks will take on much greater weight now after Nine’s savage criticism of the NRL in a statement on Thursday, accusing the administration of years of mismanagement and of leaving the company out of the planning for playing again during the COVID-19 crisis and coming out of it.
While the league it is protected by the force majeure clause in its broadcast contracts after suspending the competition last month, Nine argues the NRL has not fulfilled its contract and wants to revisit its five-year $625 million deal or negotiate a new long-term agreement.
The broadcaster claims there is less value attached to match without crowds, as is likely to be the case for many months, and with a season extending beyond October, is eager for more exclusivity it what it televises and has expressed a desire for greater structural change to the game including giving clubs more power.
Asked whether he would be open to discussing a revamp of how the code is administered as sought by Nine, V’landys replied: “My discussions with the broadcaster are always confidential".
“As a game we wanted to set a time when we had some certainty, and now we will certainly engage and get the support of our partners. That’s the process," he said.
There is an urgency to next week’s talks with Nine for clubs and players because what the broadcaster agrees to pay will help determine what is distributed to them.
“Obviously they are a major partner in the game considering they provide a significant amount of revenue and have done for quite some time,” Rugby League Players Association chief executive Clint Newton said.
“At risk of getting some splinters in my backside, that’s something Peter and the commission and the exec team need to work through with Hugh and Channel Nine.
“What I do know is that the players are committed to providing for those broadcasters and are prepared to go to significant lengths to do that for them because they are such a significant player.”
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