Heineken Champions Cup rugby boss Simon Halliday has criticised the French government for its decision which resulted in the cancellation of the remaining two pool stage rounds of the tournament this month, plunging the showpiece event into chaos.
The pandemic pressures on the rugby calendar in the 2020/21 season had already resulted in the European tournaments losing one of its traditional annual nine weekends to stage matches.
That led to a revamped format where 24 clubs were drawn into two pools of twelve teams with each team having just four pool stage rounds.
However, that plan was decimated by this month’s cancellation of rounds three and four due to government concerns in France about its teams travelling abroad and overseas teams visiting France.
It has left officials, including EPCR chairman Halliday, with a headache on how to now finish the Champions Cup tournament over the four weekends they have left available to them following the completion of the Guinness Six Nations. One solution is a round of 16 of straight knockout matches.
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Asked about the political interference which scuppered rounds three and four, ex-England winger Halliday told The Rugby Pod: “I will choose my words carefully. We have put up with and survived and dealt with the British government’s multiple decision making and of course, everyone has the right to change their minds and we have seen plenty of that as well.
“You’re never going to make a call on people’s health but I turn the question to another question which is what are the safest environments that have been created during this pandemic?
“I pay great credit to the sports authorities, sports grounds, the stadia, certainly in the UK and everywhere, they have created incredibly safe environments for those players to go and play so we’re not talking about crowds. We’re talking about players.
“The French government decision was extremely disappointing because ultimately all the leagues and EPCR, yes there have been one or two cry-offs and one or two numbers of infections but as a percentage, I pay credit to what sports stadia have done to create secure environments and that should have been the key issue.
“Flying players to and from a secure environment, I’m not sure they looked at that in enough depth and certainly the presentation the LNR and EPCR made was very strong, that the protocols were absolutely best in practice. So it’s disappointing.
“The bottom line is the timing was unfortunate because it was right at the stage where there were nasty scenes of some very, very serious inflows of sick patients to hospitals, particularly in the south of England with this new strain and everyone was looking at that.
“I mean, Ireland has got the highest infection rate anywhere right now. It’s incredibly difficult to call and we’re sportspeople and all the rest, but sport has really shown the way forward and this [French government decision] was a knockback for that which was unnecessary.”
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