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24 June 2020

Clubs across Ulster are working hard to ‘Return To Rugby’ and the IRFU has provided a comprehensive roadmap to assist them with their health and safety plans.

Ulster Rugby spoke to Academy RFC’s Chair and COVID-19 Safety Officer, Gareth Davis about the club’s strategies to make a smooth and safe return to rugby.

“As the club’s Chair, I’m at the heart of things and thought it made sense to pick up the role of COVID-19 Officer. Working in the construction industry means I have prepared some health and safety information in the past, so I’m familiar with some of the systems and terminology.”

‘No Plan, No Play’

With Academy RFC pitches not being adjacent to the clubhouse, it means the clubhouse can remain closed to lessen the risk in the meantime. During the initial phases of training, only the toilets at the pitches will be available to the players and the changing facilities will remain out of bounds.

“Players will go to the pitches to train and leave without making use of changing rooms or the clubhouse. We will have hand sanitizing stations for when they come onto the pitches and initially, we won’t be using equipment in the first phase of training to mitigate risk of infection.

“We have completed the planning phases and have now moved into the education phase, as well as assembling the Compliance Officers virtually to explain their roles and responsibilities for the next phase of activities. There will be a minimum of one Compliance Officer for each team in the club. They will have to record attendance so that we can track individuals if there’s an outbreak at any stage. Compliance Officers are also there to advise players on what they can and cannot do in training maintaining social distancing and hygiene rules. They’re also required to keep up-to-date with the latest government guidelines.

“The club operates a team communication app which will be an excellent tool for recording who has been at the sessions. It might create some good habits amongst players to let us know in advance who’s coming as well.”

IRFU Education & Training

After appointing their COVID-19 Safety Officer and Compliance Officers, Academy RFC is now focusing on education and training.

“The education phase of the COVID-19 safety planning is the most important; players will need to modify their behaviour, such as how they arrive and how they leave training, coughing and sneezing etiquette, as well as keeping hands clean.

“Although COVID-19 has been around for a while, some people are still in the dark about the part they play in keeping others safe. We have a variety of stakeholders at the club, such as parents dropping youth players off for training, coaches and other volunteers, so it is critical they know what the correct protocols are. The situation will change as well over the summer as we eventually get the nod to start using equipment, then cleaning regimes before and after will come into play. Communication will be key.”

As part of the IRFU ‘Return to Rugby’ roadmap, training and education on COVID-19 safety planning has been available to all clubs as they complete their return to rugby in 2020.

“The information we have been given from the IRFU and Ulster Rugby has been very helpful in pointing us in the right direction.”

“The IRFU ‘Return to Rugby’ webinar was extremely useful and they covered a range of themes from a legal standpoint through to the medical advice which cleared up a lot of uncertainties. There were lots of questions asked by clubs and off the back of that, there was a frequently asked questions document issued to clubs.

“The templates in particular have been very helpful, as we haven’t got the time or resources to draw these up from scratch. We have Colin Petrie at the club who has plenty of experience in health and safety plans, so I was able to run things by him too. Our Director of Rugby, Gareth Lynn, has undertaken a lot of planning around the training sessions when we do return, and he has applied the health and safety plans to his future sessions.”

Clubs across Ulster can vary in terms of their size, number of sections and teams, as well as resources, and so will need to adapt the IRFU templates to make sure all aspects of health and safety for their respective clubs are covered, which Davis is keen to stress.

“It’s important to mould the resources and templates to your club and your situation; it’s not a case of one size fits all. There are clubs with different numbers of teams, and in our case, we have one youth side and three senior teams, so we may not have as many protocols to put in place as the bigger clubs might, such as staggered start times and so on.

“When something like a rugby club is taken away during this time, you realise how important it is to people’s mental and physical health, which is why the goal for us is to get back as quickly as we can, but also as safely as we can. We have to create an environment in which everyone who comes to the club feels safe.”

For more information on the IRFU ‘Return to Rugby’ guidelines: https://www.ulsterrugby.com/2020/06/irfu-issues-their-return-to-rugby-guidelines-for-clubs/

Clubs must complete the COVID-19 safety planning stage and confirm a COVID-19 Club Health & Safety plan with their province before resuming any rugby activity.

Any clubs requiring support, please contact our Rugby Development team at clubsupport@ulsterrugby.com.