Players of one of Australia’s most popular professional sports could be quarantined on a luxury island under an audacious plan being considered to get them back on the field – and back on TV – during the coronavirus crisis.
Like most sports, the National Rugby League (NRL) was forced to cancel its entire season due to the spread of the coronavirus, which made it impossible to keep players safe. The cancellation threw the sport into a financial tailspin, and on April 3 the NRL announced that it had reached an agreement with players to forgo five months of their annual salary if the competition is unable to resume.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said he is “hellbent” on getting players back on the field, and the innovation committee — codenamed Project Apollo — was considering the island proposal, along with others.
Hosting the players on a tropical getaway is the brainchild of Tangalooma Island Resort manager David James.
The resort, on Moreton Island off the coast of Queensland, typically houses up to 1,500 guests who toboggan down sand dunes, ride catamarans and queue up each night to feed dolphins.
Under James’ proposal, hundreds of players from the 16 NRL teams would live on the island and be ferried back and forth for games in empty stadiums to be broadcast worldwide.
“It’s rugby league’s version of ‘Love Island’ by the sound of it,” Greenberg joked on Australia’s ‘Wide World of Sports’ radio show on April 3. “We might be able to get additional TV rights with a reality TV show. We’re up for any proposal.”
Earlier this week, Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V’landys said he hoped the season would resume on July 1, a date considered optimistic by some as the number of coronavirus cases is still rising in the country.
As of Friday, April 3, there were more than 5,000 confirmed cases and 26 people had died.
“There are literally thousands of people that earn a living on the back of rugby league and the quicker we can unlock it and put it back on the field, our fans will enjoy it but also the industry and the economy will need it as well,” Greenberg said.
Hit hard by coronavirus
James said that his Tangalooma resort could be ready to take players in four to six weeks, assuming the number of national coronavirus cases has stabilized or slowed and that health authorities supported the plan.
Right now, the resort is empty, save for 30 to 35 employees who are monitoring security and feeding the dolphins each night.
The business has been hit by a sharp downturn in global tourism, with 300 staffers being furloughed in recent weeks.
“It’s been devastating. We’re a family-owned business. A lot of our staff have been with us anywhere from 10 to 20 years,” James said.
Hosting rugby league players could be a financial lifeline for the resort and many other local businesses.
“We’d have 560 hungry, big males to feed at the resort so that really protects some of the suppliers that we use already,” James said. “We’ve had probably 15 companies from different fields and industries contacting us already that would all benefit out of this going ahead.”
Hotel staff would be subject to the same quarantine measures as the players, and buses, boats and stadium change rooms would be sterilized before and after to ensure their safety.
All training would be done on the island – on the beach and in the water. The island’s runway could be converted into a temporary field.
“We have a 900 meter (2,950 feet) by 60 meter (195 feet) grass airstrip – the average length of a football rugby league pitch is about 120-odd meters (390 feet) so you probably have five pitches back to back,” James said.
All visitors would be subject to temperature checks and tests for Covid-19.
“No one can get into the resort, it’s a lockdown facility – it’s our boats in, our boats out,” James said.
“If we could do this, it would be one of the greatest advertisements of Queensland and Australian ingenuity.”