Jonny Petrie: Ulster Rugby chief says sport’s return will be behind closed doors – BBC Sport

Ulster’s last game saw them beat Cheetahs in the Pro14 on 22 February

Ulster Rugby’s chief Jonny Petrie believes the sport will resume behind closed doors if the Pro14 restarts, as is planned, in August or September.

Petrie’s view is different to GAA president John Horan who doesn’t envisage his sport returning while social distancing measures remain.

“I think we have to,” said the Ulster chief executive when asked whether rugby will return behind closed doors.

Petrie was speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound Extra-Time.

“The reality is that it’s going to be behind closed doors or certainly restricted crowds for quite some period of time.

“When I look back at the big nights at Kingspan Stadium, with 18,000 packed into the stands and the terraces, seeing that again feels like it’s quite a long time away.”

Ulster likely to return in interpros

While insisting that public health considerations would always “come first”, the Ulster chief executive said efforts had to be made to “get us moving again as a business”.

“From a revenue point of view, a big chunk comes from tickets and season tickets but we also have a portion of our revenue that comes from sponsorships and partnerships and from broadcasts as well.

“We want to try and get back playing to bring some revenue in because ultimately it’s the professional level of the game that allows us to pay for everything at grassroots level.”

Draft proposals come up with by the Pro14 would have Irish rugby resuming with an Irish interpro series over the final two weekends in August and Petrie backs this plan.

“The Pro14 as a competition is a tricky one because of the cross border nature of it where each of the different nations is in a very different timeline in terms of any easing of restrictions,” added Petrie.

“The interprovincial series to get ourselves going again is the path of least resistance.

“(But) If we are to play an interprovincial series, we need to be aligned with the rest of Ireland as well.

“That creates its own complications if they are on a slightly different timeline to Northern Ireland. We find ourselves in a unique situation like that.”

Petrie believes the Ulster squad will need “four to six weeks” of training before resuming action

‘We must not pack too many matches in’

Whatever the timeframe for the game’s return, Petrie says professional players will need “four to six weeks of preparation” on the training field.

“If that (late August) is going to happen we need to work towards confirming that over the next month or so because everyone needs to know what the plans are.”

But if the game does return this year in an attempt to finish the current season, Petrie says any temptation to “pack all sorts of matches into a short period of time” must be resisted.

“That has its implications for player welfare. We need to make sure that when we do come back, we do it in a reasonable way that takes care of our players from a health perspective. They have all got families and elderly relatives as well.”

Petrie said the mechanics of how player contracts will be regarded for an extended season which could only go into 2021 were yet to be precisely formulated.

“We’re all trying to figure out when people have got existing end dates on their contracts and how does that work with the season being completed in the next contractual year effectively.”

Ian Madigan and former New Zealand scrum-half Alby Mathewson have joined the Irish province for next season with Ireland players Will Addison and back row Jordi Murphy among those who have signed contract extensions.

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