Wasps head coach Lee Blackett calls for Premiership pause if fans are shut out
The Wasps head coach, Lee Blackett, has called on the Premiership to consider pausing the season if matches are forced behind closed doors by the continued spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Matches in Wales and Scotland will be played in effectively spectator-free stadiums from Boxing Day and Blackett believes calling a temporary halt to fixtures would be in the best financial interest of the clubs if the government introduces similar measures in England. He has also suggested the postponed games could be played in midweeks later in the season given there are no free weekends in the calendar.
Clubs are hopeful their festive fixtures will go ahead with bumper crowds as planned – Wasps are due to host London Irish on Boxing Day – but on Wednesday the health secretary, Sajid Javid, reiterated the government’s position that tighter restrictions could not be ruled out after Christmas as more than 100,000 daily Covid cases were recorded in the UK for the first time.
This week Bristol’s director of rugby, Pat Lam, warned clubs would struggle to survive another lockdown after some were driven to the brink of bankruptcy by having to play so many matches in empty stadiums when rugby union resumed last August. Exeter were at one stage losing £1m a month and the clubs’ plight was aggravated by a swingeing cut to central funding from the Rugby Football Union.
Blackett said: “I don’t think anyone wants three or four weeks without supporters. If that is the case, we’ll have to look at a circuit-break. From my perspective that’s where I’d want to go as everyone needs supporters in from a player/coaching side as players play better with them in. It is proven that the intensity of games is higher.
“So if we can have that little break, and then we might have to play midweek, it would be for the best interests of the club financially, definitely, and for the players as well. Everyone wants to play with supporters – that’s the selfish perspective. Everyone sees that, as it’s a better spectacle for sport and for TV.”
Playing midweek matches would be a controversial move on player welfare grounds but, when the 2019‑20 season resumed last August, they were considered a necessary evil to ensure the fixture list was completed in full.
Blackett said: “[A circuit-breaker] is my personal view, I just think it’s the best thing for the game. I can’t imagine clubs are going to say: ‘Let’s play three weeks with no fans.’ If we had to take a three-week break without fans I’m pretty sure everyone would be on the same page.”