New Zealand is on the verge of becoming the first country in the world to allow fans to return to major sporting events. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden is set to lower New Zealand’s COVID-19 restrictions to level 1, with a decision likely by June 10.
A level 1 restriction would lift the limits imposed on public gatherings and social distancing, put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. New Zealand has recorded no new COVID-19 cases for 15 days.
The move to level 1 restrictions would come in time for local fans to attend the first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa matches on June 13.
The five Super Rugby clubs in New Zealand had planned a domestic 10-week competition after international travel restrictions were imposed in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
“At level 1, all current rules on businesses and services are essentially lifted,” the New Zealand Prime Minister said on Wednesday. “Sports and concert stadiums can be sold out.”
In Australia, the New South Wales government is set to follow New Zealand’s lead, with small gatherings permitted to return to NRL fixtures. The government is planning to regulate rugby league fixtures in the same manner as pubs and clubs across New South Wales.
Fans will be allowed to attend rugby league games from round 5, provided that they are in a corporate box facility. Spectators will be expected to observe strict social distancing rules, allowing for one person every four-square meters.
Up to 50 rugby league fans will be permitted in one corporate box. NRL bosses are lobbying state governments in Queensland and Victoria to follow suit if the move proves to be successful in New South Wales.
NRL CEO Peter V’landys remains hopeful that more spectators will be permitted to return to games, with a July 1 target in mind for the code. “It’s a good start and our next step once we’ve done that correctly is to try to convince the government to allow us to have spectators in seated areas from July 1 or shortly afterwards.”