EPCR chairman Simon Halliday has aired his frustration at the French government calling a halt to this season’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions, saying the protocols in place were ‘best in practice’.
The final two rounds of the pool stage was scheduled to take place earlier this month, but the French government took action in light of the spread of a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus.
And while the French national team appears to be free to compete in the Six Nations, kicking off on February 6, Halliday believes French rulemakers were primitive in their decision against months of protocol planning by EPCR, PRL, PRO14 and the LNR.
Speaking to The Rugby Pod, Halliday said: “I’ll choose my words carefully, we have had to put up with, survive, and deal with the British government’s multiple-decision making. Everyone has the right to change their minds, and we have seen plenty of that, but we are never going to make the call on peoples health.”
“Where are the safest environments that have been created during this pandemic? I pay great credit to the sports authorities and sports grounds everywhere – certainly in the UK – that have created incredibly safe environments for those players to go and play.
“We are not talking about crowds. We are talking about players.
“I think the French government’s decision was extremely disappointing because all the leagues and the EPCR have done so much to ensure environments are safe.
“Yes, there have been one or two pry offs and a number of infections but as a percentage I pay credit to what sport stadia have done to create security – and that has been the key issue.
French authorities closed its border to the UK entirely prior to Christmas, before crisis talks led to its reopening after a 48-hour block.
The uneasiness has remained this month with the announcement on January 9 that new restrictions would prohibit travel for cross-border matches, scuppering EPCR’s window to play its Round 3 and Round 4 matches with quarter-final qualification to be decided.
Halliday, who spoke to TRP last month on the outlook for the season, added that he believed the decision was taken lightly despite the arguments made by LNR.
“I have got no problem with shutting borders and create naturally crossflow, you can prevent the spread and have a result,” he said. “But flying players to and from a secure environment, I am not sure that they looked at that in enough depth and certainly the presentation that the LNR and EPCR made was very strong. The protocols were absolutely tip-top and best in practice, so it was disappointing.
“The bottom line is the timing is unfortunate because it has come right at the stage when we are seeing nasty scenes of very serious inflows of sick patients to hospitals, particularly in the south of England with this new strain. Everyone has been looking at that and Ireland has the highest infection rate of anywhere right now.
“It is incredibly difficult to call and we are sportspeople, but I think sport has shown the way forward and I think this was a knockback for that which was unnecessary.”