With the NRL season two months away, this week the NRL has made some announcements with the intention of giving the clubs guidance on how to manage the ongoing COVID-19 threat.
The commencement of pre-season has been delayed.
Additionally, NRL players will be banned from all indoor venues, including pubs and cinemas. If NRL players have visitors to their home those visitors will need to pass a rapid antigen test before visiting (if they can find a rapid antigen test, that is).
This hardline approach has prompted questions. Is this what ‘living with the virus’ looks like? Isn’t this too much to ask of players who’ve been double vaccinated?
What does all this mean for the New Zealand Warriors?
I certainly feel some sympathy for NRL players. Many of you will point out that most of them are paid well, but does that mean we shouldn’t feel any sympathy given that this is the third season likely to go ahead with restrictions to what they can do off the field?
Some players will no doubt also have concerns about the health of their families and those they care about, with some players welcoming new borns over the off-season.
Additionally, for so long we have spoken to male athletes about the importance of having a life away from footy, not just for some perspective but also for mental health reasons. In season 2022, these lives away from footy will again be impacted.
Whilst the NRL’s announcement was clear about its expectations for the male players, it was less clear about expectations for our female players.
With the NRLW season set to commence in February, that clarity is needed and it is needed soon.
What sort of restrictions will be imposed on our NRLW players? Will they be the same as the men? And if so, just how much are we willing to ask our female athletes to sacrifice, especially given that the NRLW season has already been postponed twice?
Imagine not being able to go to any indoor venues for a six-week competition, being expected to train and perform like an elite athlete and then not being compensated as a full-time professional athlete. That seems a bit too much to ask.
The situation for our female athletes is further complicated because they are not full-time professional athletes.
Restrictions can be imposed on their ability to go to indoor venues for social activities, sure, but the same restrictions cannot be imposed on indoor venues where players work.
Because our players are not full-time professional athletesl many of them will be juggling their NRLW commitments with study, work and family responsibilities. The risk of one our female athletes contracting COVID will be higher than our male athletes given our male athletes can fully focus on their footy without financial consequence and not be required to go into the community as much.
The pandemic has required real leadership from our sporting governing bodies. It has been hard. Difficult decisions have been made. But extra leadership will absolutely be required when it comes to our NRLW season and the welfare of our players.
It goes much further than what, if any, restrictions will be imposed on players.
How will a positive case be treated? Will games be postponed or will that player be isolated? Some other codes have decided to continue, using players in development squads. This will be difficult in an NRLW sense and will really test depth.
As mentioned, the NRLW season has already been postponed twice. Players are due back to pre-season training next week and are desperate to play. Fans are desperate for the competition to go ahead, too.
But for now we must look to our governing body. My hope is that this desperation to play and the incredible athlete commitment is not taken for granted.
These women are not professional athletes. We cannot demand the world from them in terms of social restrictions, quality of play and commitment without giving something back.