Scotland’s professional rugby players will be invited to restart individual training inside a BT Murrayfield “bubble” from June 22 if the Scottish Government move to Phase Two of easing the COVID-19 lockdown next week.
Glasgow and Edinburgh players will been invited to “voluntary fitness sessions” in a controlled environment at the national stadium with social distancing with a view to building up conditioning and fitness for a return to contact rugby at the end of August.
In the meantime, Scottish Rugby are still keen to provide Murrayfield as a base to re-start football in line with the proposed August 1 deadline, with discussions continuing with Hibs and Hearts to use the plentiful space inside the stadium boundaries and the stadium itself.
Chief Executive Mark Dodson said that bringing players back into training was “the most welcome sign of change” but there were still key elements such as the relaxing of social distancing for the Autumn Tests which would play a major role in the game’s health coming out of the pandemic.
“We’re working really hard to make sure we get through this crisis in good shape, but the longer that this situation goes on without income for our business, the more fragile the situation becomes,” he said.
“The issue around the Autumn Tests is crucial to us. The reason everyone is talking about social distancing reducing from 2m to 1.5m to 1m to zero is that it has a significant impact on how many tickets we can sell, how many people can come through the door and enjoy whatever Test schedule we can put forward.
“From where we stand at the moment, our presumption is that those Tests will go ahead behind closed doors until we’re told different from government. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to play with crowds for the Autumn schedule but we’re not convinced and we’ve budgeted for the worst case scenario.”
The hope is to finish the Six Nations this autumn, followed by “some sort of Autumn Tests” schedule and for next year’s Six nations to be played as normal, as playing that behind closed doors or not all “is in a different world and a different level of fragility in terms of the finances – that takes us into the sphere of £40m losses,” added Dodson.
Difficulties with international travel meant that the Autumn Tests might be against Six or Home Nations countries, he added.
“It’s under consideration,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a full Six Nations but it would be a competition with the home nations and potentially all the Six Nations countries.
“It’s not an exact science but 2m social distancing makes it very difficult to get more than 10,000 people into BT Murrayfield. You could probably get up to 30,000 into the stadium with social distancing being relaxed.”
Discussions with Hearts and Hibs were at an early stage but Dodson believes Murrayfield is the perfect venue for re-launching all kinds of sport.
“We’ve got lots of room and we’re practiced at putting on big events. We have the biggest stadium in Scotland and it’s only natural that if you’re going to have to be socially distant, the bigger stadium you have, the more chance you have.
“We’ve had conversations with Hibs and Hearts – they are at an early stage. Our intention is to work with the government and play a role in getting sport back being played. If BT Murrayfield can become a bio-bubble where we can safely get games played, we’re very happy.”