The Championship and League 1 clubs start to the season have been delayed after a virtual meeting between the clubs.
The consensus reached was that the Championship season could and should be delayed by several weeks from the scheduled start of late February. This is in recognition of the current public health situation and the likely implications on the return of fans to elite sport.
For similar reasons, the League 1 clubs were supportive of a longer delay to the start of their season. It will now begin later in the spring.
Championship clubs have been cleared to return from this weekend (Saturday January 16), but initially only for “Stage 1 plus” – which permits socially distanced (non-contact) training outdoors – with the intention of moving to “Stage 2”, with contact training permitted, in February.
League 1 clubs will be cleared to begin a similar staged process in February – with all clubs at each level required to satisfy the RFL that that they are able to meet strict conditions regarding testing and bio security.
England Women’s scheduled return to training this weekend has been postponed by a week, and further discussions will be held with Women’s Super League clubs this week about their pre-season training schedule.
Further details of the schedule for the 2021 Betfred Championship and League 1, including the early rounds of the Challenge Cup, will be published over the weekend, following further feedback from the clubs and consultation with the RFL Board – with fixture lists to follow.
Ralph Rimmer, the RFL Chief Executive, said: “We have been grateful to our clubs throughout the last 10 months for their responsible and constructive approach to such a challenging period for all, and Wednesday’s meeting was another example of that.
“A staged return to pre-season training, after the short pause advised last week, followed by a staggered start to the Championship and League 1 seasons, represents the best way for us to combine this responsibility with other priorities of player welfare and the financial sustainability of our clubs.
“This approach extends to the Academy and Scholarship programmes, which are so important to the future health of the game as well as the mental health of the youngsters involved – and we will confirm shortly a similar approach for the Women’s Super League.”