Karl Fitzpatrick confident rugby league will survive despite ‘hammer blow’

Warrington were gearing up for the return of crowds.

Castleford Tigers v St Helens – Betfred Super League – Mend-A-Hose Jungle
Castleford Tigers v St Helens – Betfred Super League – Mend-A-Hose Jungle

Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick says the decision to scrap pilot crowds in Super League was a “hammer blow” but remains confident the game can see out the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fitzpatrick’s club have already staged five matches behind closed doors at the Halliwell Jones Stadium – it is also the venue for this week’s round-13 fixtures – and were gearing up for the return of fans, initially restricted to 1,000.

However, that all changed after the Government announced a tightening of restrictions to combat a rise in infections and Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer has hinted that both major finals this season may now be played without crowds.

RUGBYL Salford
Former Salford full-back Karl Fitzpatrick who is now Warrington’s chief executive and spearheading their fight through the crisis (PA Images/Gareth Copley)

“It was a hammer blow,” Fitzpatrick said. “We were all geared up ready to welcome crowds back.

“I got asked when we need fans back and my response was we needed them weeks ago. We’re in such a precarious position and now it’s looking like we may have finals without crowds.

“I will say the situation is so dynamic and so fluid, it could change. When we got the announcement that we could have the pilot crowds on the 30th of September I was very pleasantly surprised, I didn’t see that coming.

Rugby League – Engage Super League – Hull FC v Hull Kingston Rovers – KC Stadium
Crowds may be gone for the rest of the season, says RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer (PA Images/Anna Gowthorpe)

“The RFL did a tremendous job again in getting that over the line. So there is a glimmer of hope that it does swing in our favour.

“However, it would be very naive to start planning for that and hope is not a strategy so we need to plan and budget accordingly.

“It’s so disappointing because the support we’ve had from our supporters and our partners has been absolutely tremendous.

“We’ve had over two-thirds not ask for any sort of refund on the season tickets so we wanted to get a game on in front of them to pay them back, to say thank you.”

Hull KR v St Helens – Betfred Super League – Halliwell Jones Stadium
Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium is a regular venue for behind-close-doors fixtures (PA Images/Mike Egerton)

Warrington are one of the wealthiest outfits in Super League, thanks to the generosity of their co-owners, Stuart Middleton, a card-factory owner, and concert promoter Simon Moran, who may have to plough more money into the club despite the financial crisis hitting their own businesses.

“Potentially that may happen,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’ve already committed a seven-figure sum and we need to understand their businesses have been hit big time as well.

“But they’re still standing by the club and we’re very fortunate at Warrington that we have them on our board. I dread to think what we’d be doing without them.

“We’re worried, absolutely, but we’re confident we can come through it.

“The sport is littered with resilient people, we’re in a very difficult position but we will come through it whatever it takes, I think that’s the mentality we’re seeing right across the sport, particularly from the players.

“They’ve got a whatever-it-takes mentality to go on the field and play with new rules that meant the ball is in play a lot longer and the game is a lot faster.

“They’ve done this on three weeks’ preparation on reduced pay. Their commitment has been absolutely superb and needs to be commended and that’s what we need to show off the field as well.”

Warrington recently went ahead with two fixtures despite having seven players ruled out due to coronavirus.

“It didn’t even enter our psyche not to play,” Fitzpatrick added. “It’s important we continue to service the Sky contract. They are an unbelievable partner that is sticking by us.”

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