Coronavirus forces Leeds Rhinos' game at Catalans Dragons to be played behind closed doors

Leeds Rhinos' Betfred Super League fixture at Catalans Dragons on Saturday will go ahead, but without a crowd.

Tuesday, 10th March 2020, 6:25 pm
Leeds Rhinos' Harry Newman in action agia\nst Catalans Dragons at Headingley last year.

Catalans have confirmed the fixture will be played behind closed doors after the French government banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The French club say Rhinos and the Rugby Football League turned down a request to switch the game to Leeds.

Rhinos have sold more than 200 tickets for the game and have asked fans who will be in Perpignan on Friday Saturday to contact them.

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Catalans' Israel Folau training at Stade Gilbert Brutus.

A Rhinos statement, issued on Tuesday afternoon, said: "Leeds Rhinos have welcomed the decision by the RFL board that this Saturday’s Betfred Super League game at Catalans Dragons in Perpignan should go ahead, but with the provision that it is played in accordance with the French authorities’ recommendations regarding coronavirus.

"As a club, we fully accept that this is an incredibly difficult, unprecedented situation and our sympathies are with Catalans Dragons, who have been impacted by the current ban of large crowds gathering in France. No fans of either team will be permitted to enter the stadium at Saturday’s game.

"Along with Super League and the RFL, we have been in discussions with Catalans Dragons for a number of days to find a resolution that will enable the game to be played. Leeds Rhinos will take all necessary pre-cautions, as set down by Public Health England, throughout the duration of their trip to Perpignan. The team will fly out from Leeds Bradford Airport on Friday morning to Barcelona before travelling north to Perpignan. Leeds will return home on Sunday afternoon.

"Leeds Rhinos will be contacting fans who have bought tickets direct from the club for this weekend’s game. Any Rhinos fans who have purchased tickets from the Rhinos ticket office will be entitled to a full refund for their match tickets from the Rhinos.

"Fans who are still travelling to Perpignan this Saturday are asked to email [email protected] to let us know if you will be in Perpignan on Friday or Saturday."

A RFL statement said: "In light of yesterday’s decision by the French Government banning public gatherings of more 1,000, a meeting was convened this morning by the RFL which involved Super League Europe, Catalans Dragons and Leeds Rhinos to discuss the impact on this weekend’s scheduled fixture.

"Following these discussions, the RFL Board have determined that the match should be played as scheduled this weekend.

"Factors considered were: That the match can be played; the absence of free weekends later in the season; that Catalans already have two fixtures to be rescheduled; the various logistical and player welfare issues surrounding midweek fixtures; the unreasonable financial impact that would have been caused to Leeds if the fixtures were switched; and the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Super League competition.

"The clubs will comply with the restrictions placed upon them by the French government and other arrangements will be resolved between the two clubs.

"The RFL stresses that this was a difficult decision enforced by the current circumstances, and acknowledges and has sympathy with the impact it will have on the Catalans club.

In a separate Catalans statement, Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch said: "Following the unprecedented decision of the French Minister of Sports, the Dragons' choice was to switch the fixtures. Unfortunately, the Leeds Rhinos club did not accept our request.

"We then proposed to postpone the match and to play it later in the season, midweek or weekend depending on the Cup results of each club. We even offer a financial compensation to Leeds club for their additional travelling costs.

"Remember that we were in the same situation a month ago in Wakefield without solution or possible compensation for the canceled game due to bad weather. To date, we are still waiting for Wakefield and the RFL to reschedule this match.

"Unfortunately the RFL, the Leeds Rhinos and the RFL Board did not hear our reasons, even after appealing the decision, and told us to play the game as scheduled.

"We strongly regret this decision which will hugely impact the finances of the club with revenues already anticipated in our annual budget.

"Unable to find a solution to choose only 1,000 supporters from our 5,500 season ticket holders and sponsors, the club has chosen to play behind closed doors."