World Rugby has published guidelines for the safe return to rugby amid COVID-19, indicating that a minimum of 167 people would be needed to stage high-level matches behind closed doors.

Developed by medical experts following consultation with union chief medical officers, competition owners and players, the guidelines from the sport’s world governing body are intended to assist unions, clubs and competitions in creating a framework and policy for return to rugby activity within their respective jurisdictions.

World Rugby stressed that unions and competition owners will need to comply with local laws and policies implemented by government or local authorities in relation to COVID-19, including social distancing and travel measures.

It added: “For the avoidance of doubt, this does not mean that matches will have to be played behind closed doors until a vaccine is available – the strategy will be determined by the respective national government directives.”

The guidelines, which are World Health Organization (WHO) compliant and are available to view here, document the environment for returning to match action in a domestic, cross-border and cross-continent context and processes for facility and stadium preparation.

The 167-person figure that World Rugby has devised includes 58 players, eight stadium operations staff, 41 people working in the media, 16 medical personnel, 10 administration staff and four security guards.

World Rugby chief medical officer and guideline co-author, Dr Éanna Falvey, said: “We have been working in full collaboration with unions, regions, competitions and players in preparing a set of guidelines that are WHO compliant in a rugby context. They outline all the necessary considerations and steps for players, coaches, clubs, unions and competitions and will be updated regularly as the advice and environment evolves.

“Initial feedback has been extremely positive, and it is certainly prudent that we have a standardised and ready-to-mobilise approach when it is safe and appropriate to resume steps towards playing in the context of easing social-distancing measures.”

The guidelines were authored by Falvey, Dr Martin Raftery (World Rugby), Prav Mathema (Welsh Rugby Union), Prof Mary Horgan (consultant physician of infectious diseases) and supported by data collected through regional COVID-19 steering group chairs who consulted with World Rugby’s 124 national member unions.

Image: Aviva Stadium