Restarting the NRL – sensational – but ……

It has been announced that the National Rugby League (NRL) will recommence the competition on the 28th May 2020. Whilst, on the surface, this feels like we are getting back to some level of normalcy (albeit that the players and officials will be in isolation) there is an elephant in the room that I don’t think has been clarified.

There has been plenty of discussion about what’s required to get this season kicked off. The issue I see, however, is not what is being done to get the competition started – it is what would trigger a subsequent suspension of the competition.

We can’t be naïve enough to assume that there are no circumstances under which the competition could be suspended again, given how ambitious the timeline has been.  So, what are those circumstances?

Is it one player testing positive? Is it two? Is it more?

The reason that I ask this question is that it strikes at the very heart of the management of risk, in that it is impossible to manage a risk unless there is a clear understanding of the consequence if the risk materialises. Understanding the consequence allows officials to implement an appropriate control environment.

More importantly, it provides the players and officials with an understanding of the implications of their actions.

At the moment, the NRL is relying on people to do the right thing without them understanding the full implications of stepping outside those rules to the club and to the game.  Recent incidents such as those over the ANZAC Day long weekend, have shown us that there are implications to the individual, however, in my opinion, that is insufficient to drive the point home

What everyone needs to understand is that it could be taken away again – it just needs to be understood by everyone involved under what circumstances that would occur.

I have previously written on player behaviour and the impact it can have on the game’s reputation, but this situation is far more desperate and the very future of the NRL (at the very least the future of some clubs) could be in jeopardy should the competition be suspended again.

In my opinion, therefore, it is critical that the NRL identifies the conditions under which the competition would be suspended again, that way there is absolutely no doubt.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, we look at three different scenarios:

  • Scenario 1:
    • It has been made clear to all clubs and officials prior to the commencement of the revamped season that if there is one case of the virus diagnosed in any of the clubs the competition will be suspended immediately with no chance of restarting until 2021. 
    • If it is found that the infection was caused by a player or official breaking the rules, the club will be fined $500,000 (via reduction in salary cap for 2021 season); they will be docked 6 competition points in the 2021 season and the player/s involved will be suspended for the first 8 games of the 2021 season.
  • Scenario 2:
    • It has been made clear to all clubs and officials prior to the commencement of the revamped season that if there are cases of the virus diagnosed at multiple (3 or more) clubs the competition will be suspended immediately with no chance of restarting until 2021.

and/or

  • It has been made clear to all clubs and officials prior to the commencement of the revamped season that if there is one case of the virus diagnosed in any of the clubs the competition will be for a period of not less than 2 weeks but more likely 4.
  • Scenario 3: It has been made clear to all clubs and officials prior to the commencement of the revamped season that the season will continue, regardless of any cases being diagnosed.

Each of these scenarios changes (or should change) the attitude and behaviours of all of those involved in the game. 

Scenario 1Holy f#@king s*#t scenario Players: I am going to do the right thing regardless of any external pressures I may be getting Club Officials: I am going to put in place additional measures to make sure all the players are doing the right thing NRL: We are not going to rely entirely on the clubs to ensure players are doing the right thing and will put in place additional assurance measures such as random spot-checks on player whereabouts. etc.
Scenario 2That’s a bit s*#t scenario Players: I am going try to do the right thing but there is no real impact because we will still be able to play so, if it is something I want or need to do I will probably still do it Club Officials: I am going to put in place a bit more than the NRL has told me to do in terms of monitoring player behaviour NRL: We are going to rely on the clubs to make sure players are doing the right thing, but we will make sure that there is an excellent reporting regime
Scenario 3Who gives a s*#t scenario Players: There is no real impact so ……. Club Officials: I am going to put in place the bare minimum that the NRL has told me to do in terms of monitoring player behaviour NRL: We are going to rely entirely on the clubs to make sure players are doing the right thing

I’m a fan. I want to see it up and running again. But the worst thing that could happen is that it starts and then stops again. 

If we knew what the trigger would be for a second suspension, everyone could be laser focussed on, not only what has to be done, but why it is so critically important.

I personally do not believe that there is clarity on the why – and that needs to change if we expect everyone to play the game so we can keep watching the game.

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