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New Zealand reopens its doors to the public for rugby

RUGBY By AFP | June 8th 2020
Hurricanes supporters show their joy on February 29, 2020 after a try by the New Zealand team during the Super Rugby match against the Japanese Sunwolves at McLean Park in Napier in New Zealand. (AFP ARCHIVES)

Super Rugby Aotearoa, a version of Super Rugby confined to New Zealand, will be the first major sporting competition in the world to reopen its doors to the public on Saturday, authorized to come without restriction to fill the stands of its stadiums.

"The + Super Rugby Aotearoa + will be the first professional rugby competition in the world to allow a massive return of fans to the Covid-19 era when it resumes on Saturday in Dunedin," the federation said New Zealand Rugby in a press release. New Zealand.

This competition is a tight version of Super Rugby, which usually opposes from March franchises from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, major nations of rugby in the southern hemisphere, suspended this year at cause of the coronavirus epidemic.

Super Rugby Aotearoa will only bring together the five New Zealand franchises of Super Rugby: the Blues, the Chiefs, the Hurricanes, the Crusaders and the Highlanders.

Only seven of the 24 first editions of Super Rugby escaped them, and the first match of this tournament will oppose Saturday evening in Dunedin, on the south island, the local franchise of the Otago Highlanders, winners of Super Rugby in 2015, with the Waikato Chiefs of Hamilton, titled in 2012 and 2013.

Sunday, the Auckland Blues, first winners of Super Rugby in 1996 and 97, will receive in the legendary Eden Park the Hurricanes of Wellington, winners in 2016.

These meetings will be able to fill up with spectators, to whom it was simply suggested, without any obligation, to geolocate in the stadium via an application on their mobile phone, in the event of tracing in case of contraction of the coronavirus.

"The world is going to be looking at us," said Roger Clark, president of the Highlanders.

"We are incredibly proud and grateful to be the first professional sporting competition in the world in a position to allow our teams to play again in front of their fans," said New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson.

A handful of competitions have already been contested with audiences around the world but with drastic restrictions.

In Hungary, for example, the Football Federation (MLSZ) authorized fans to return to the stands on the last weekend in May, provided they only occupy one seat in four and leave at least a horizontal row of separation between them.

- In camera and due diligence -

In Prague, a mini tennis tournament, reserved for the Czech elite, was also contested for three days in late May in the presence of spectators. But their number was limited to a few hundred, scattered on a court adjoining the one where the matches took place, behind barriers.

In Taiwan, baseball has also been played since the beginning of May with public support, but limited to 1,000 people per game.

Apart from these rare examples, and if we exclude Azerbaijan and Belarus where competitions with the public have never stopped since the start of the pandemic, some championships of major football nations, such as Germany and Portugal, resumed. But behind closed doors.

And if Spain, whose football championship is to resume this weekend, has not ruled out the presence of the public, its government is very cautious in the matter.

Super Rugby Aotearoa was also initially to resume without spectators but the New Zealand government announced Monday the lifting of restrictions in the country thanks to the successes recorded in the fight against the epidemic.

The authorities have announced that New Zealand has no more active cases.

The South Pacific archipelago of five million inhabitants, has counted 1,154 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.

No new contamination has been identified for 17 days. It had been a week since there had been only one active case.


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