European rugby bosses have reluctantly suspended the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup after French authorities ruled that the public health risk was « too great » for the top 14 clubs.
The European Professional Club Rugby had hoped to avoid disrupting competitions by drafting new coronavirus protocols, including introducing tests three days before the games, amid concerns about the new Covid-19 variant.
However, they have now taken a break, with two rounds of group stage matches remaining after the French government ordered their clubs to postpone their matches in January.
An EPCR statement said: » According to an instruction from the French authorities that the participation of TOP 14 clubs in the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup is currently too great a risk for public health d EPCR has no choice but to announce today (Monday, January 11th) that the 2020/21 tournaments will be temporarily suspended.
« EPCR and Ligue Nationale de Rugby held an audio conference last week attended with representatives from the French Ministries of the Interior, Health and Sport and the Office of the President.
“The French authorities were presented with remarkable updates to the EPCR’s COVID-19 protocols, including the addition of PCR tests no earlier than three days before the games in the tournaments that comply with the guidelines of the French government and complement the existing, careful measures of contact tracing with a view to limiting the risk of transmission.
« In light of the recent discovery of a new coronavirus strain, the French Government ordered that French clubs postpone their participation in the EPCR tournaments for the month of January, as well ohl for games in France as well as for games to be played in France United Kingdom and Ireland.
“Based on this policy, EPCR had no choice but to temporarily hold the pool phase of the Heineken Champions Cup and the preliminary phase of the Challenge Cup « EPCR respects all other guidelines issued by governments and local authorities and prioritizes the health and well-being of players and club staff. Working with its shareholder leagues and unions, EPCR continues to seek a solution that will allow it to resume and complete the tournaments as soon as possible.
A decision was expected on Saturday but was delayed since Talks continued with the French sides Bayonne and Toulon, who had threatened to withdraw.
The decision could have an impact on the upcoming six-nation championship. France are expected to play two away games next month before they face England in Twickenham on March 13th.
General Manager Darren Childs said: “The well-being of everyone involved in Premiership rugby is of paramount importance to us. This season break gives us the opportunity to give our hard-working players, management, staff and match officers some much-needed rest.
« The Gallagher Premiership rugby season will be – as planned – on Friday 29 January , come back when Bristol Bears Bath hosts rugby live on BT Sport. «
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