World Rugby chief medical officer Martin Raftery believes the perception that a contact sport like rugby is more dangerous than others might not be right and that the game’s existing offside line will be a great help in minimising the risk of Covid transmission. 

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Major recommendations concerning rugby in the Covid-19 era are due before the game’s global governing body this week, with wriggle room for each union to adopt or reject the suggestions depending on where their virus infection rate is.

According to the research, rugby’s physical element is said not to be as big a risk as some may think because Covid-19 is transmitted through cough, respiratory and saliva droplets rather than sweat. It’s believed the research found that front and second players were most at risk, spending an average of 13.4 minutes per game in high-transmission risk situations.

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Abolishing scrum resets, which required 3.6 minutes on average per game, would reduce high-risk transmission exposure time by 30 per cent while limiting head-to-head tackles would result in a 20 per cent reduction rate. Banning spitting and limiting huddles were also among the suggestions, as were regularly disinfecting balls and changing jerseys.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, World Rugby medical chief Raftery said: “If you tackle someone around the legs and you’re not near any droplets, then you’re not at risk.

“If you sit across the table from someone, even your grandmother who is a metre away from you for 15 minutes, then you are at risk if she has COVID-19. The perception that contact sport is more dangerous may not be exactly right because it’s about proximity to an infected person.

“A protective measure within rugby is the offside line and it keeps people away from each other. In a game of basketball, it’s man on man as opposed to team on team. We’re saying there may be actually a higher risk in that game because they’re in that one metre for a longer period of time.”

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“It’s not going to be forced upon people,” added Raftery as national unions can adopt or reject the recommendations depending on the rates of COVID-19 in their respective countries. 

“It’s just going to say, ‘Here’s the research we found. If you think you want to trial it, by all means you can trial it’. That doesn’t mean a country who has a low risk can’t adopt it and trial it as well. That’s up to the actual competitions to make that decision.”

The recommendations illustrate how rugby as played in the pre-Covid-19 era won’t be returning in some countries until there is an effective vaccine for the virus. This was something Barry O’Driscoll, a former World Rugby medical advisor, elaborated on to RugbyPass last weekend. 

“Rugby can only come back to what it was if we have a vaccine, an effective vaccine. Until then it won’t be the same game,” he said. “You don’t want to destroy integral parts of the game, but you don’t have to go too far before it isn’t the rugby that we know really.”

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