The vice-president of the FFR, questioned by Le Figaro, wants to be optimistic. “Covid manager” of the XV of France, he participates in the development of the health protocol and ensures that the French government has received all the required guarantees.
Le Figaro – According to the Six Nations Committee, the Tournament will go ahead as planned …
Serge Simon: As we speak – and today all activities must be preceded by this preamble because everything can change very quickly – the Six Nations Tournament will take place as planned, yes. That is to say on the dates and in the stages planned. In camera of course.
So there is no question of a competition taking place only in France?
This is speculation. It never really got on the table.
The Ministry of Sports is not opposed to it but has set a condition: to ensure that health protocols are compliant for all countries.
I do not share the idea of a condition. We share a lot with the authorities. And I have the impression that the listening is attentive and benevolent. The question was’ okay, but is everyone doing the same? The answer is yes and that reassured them, it seems to me. It is a common protocol built by all and imposed on all. To which can be added health obligations specific to each country. But the requirement and the rigor are the same for all nations. We therefore provided them with the assurance that the health protocol governing the competition provides all possible guarantees.
“The creation of a health bubble is practically impossible for Women and U20s“
Why are you so affirmative?
This protocol has one advantage: it was developed for the fall tour and it has proven its worth. We therefore start from an existing one that has shown two strengths: its ability to minimize, or even eliminate, the risk of the birth of a household by creating effective health bubbles; and, if there is an outbreak, as was the case with the Fijian team, to control it and prevent its spread to others. This is what is most important for public authorities: detection and isolation, so that it is not the source of general contamination. It has proven to be effective, but we will improve and strengthen it due to the over-contagiousness of the British variant. This explains why the Women’s and U20 competitions have been postponed, because this level of requirement cannot be ensured for the three competitions. They are not the same populations. The Women and U20 are not only made up of professionals, players and players have lives elsewhere. Building a bubble is therefore difficult, if not impossible.
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Many people ask themselves this question: why the European Cups were postponed and not the Six Nations Tournament?
Time plays a big role in this health crisis. The European Cup has not been canceled, it is the matches of January that have been postponed due to the general situation of the epidemic and the lack of time to organize. This does not mean that in February or March, these matches could not have been played … Between the experience feedback from the autumn tour and the timing of the Tournament, mid-February to the end of March, we have brought sufficient guarantees. Without prejudging the government’s decision, I have the impression that, under these conditions of control, playing these matches will not pose any problems. If the authorities say otherwise, we will of course comply. But, in the current discussions, we are optimistic that the Tournament will take place as planned.
“This time, in the protocol, there is no longer one, but two systematic weekly tests for the players. Or even a third for “ travelers ”“
Is there a concern about the players going back and forth to clubs?
It is not a concern but a peculiarity. It too has already been tested this fall. We have proven our ability to control health security for the entrances and exits of the bubble. And the players do not leave in the forest, but in another equally rigorous bubble, that of their club, fixed by the League. There is therefore no discontinuity in epidemiological management.
What about the testing policy during the Tournament?
Last fall, players were tested once a week, plus a possible second test imposed by the authorities of the country visited. This was the case for us during our travels in Scotland and England. We got tested like any traveler. I am part of the “Medical Advisory Group” which meets every week. This time, in the protocol, there are two systematic weekly tests. Or even a third if the one for “travelers” cannot be the same. It will depend on the day of the game and the trip. It remains to be seen whether these will be antigen testing or PCR or both.
“The economic factor comes into play, but it is not the main one“
Another criticism heard: it was absolutely necessary to save the Men’s Tournament for its 110 million TV rights to be shared between the six federations …
It is not controversial. It is a multi-factor equation, economics is not exclusive. There is the sporting factor: not playing the Tournament, not maintaining the dynamics of the teams, would be very detrimental. There is the operational factor: to shift the Tournament, okay, but how to find other dates in a very constraining ecosystem? So there is the economic factor, but I would remind you that, if the Tournament had been postponed, we would have received the TV rights, of course later. And, most important to me, there is the societal factor. I sincerely believe that the French rugby team, like any major sporting or cultural event, has a role to play in the psychological and emotional state of our nation. I am appalled by what the world of culture is going through. Its usefulness is not recognized. Culture and sport are not regarded as sectors of first necessity. Radical decisions have been taken without considering their psychological impact. Bring a little joy, enthusiasm, cohesion… We need to vibrate, to dream, to have hope. I am campaigning for it. It’s a tiny drop in this ocean, but it’s the legend of the Hummingbird’s Drop of Water. We bring our little bit of positive.
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And the impact of the lost ticketing revenue?
He is of age. Between France-Ireland, the autumn tour and the 2021 Tournament, the losses were estimated, with a gauge of 5,000 spectators, at 35 million euros. And among the 5,000, we expected mostly hospitality. The financial damage will therefore be greater. But we will face it …
You mentioned the sporting dynamics of the Blues. That of the XV de France Féminin is also stake. The cancellation of the Tournament would be a serious halt with the World Cup in sight in September …
There is a big prejudice between qualifying matches (this is not the case for the Blue, already qualified, Editor’s note) and preparation matches. We must therefore play this Tournament. We were able to shift it because the architecture of the women’s championships is not as rigid as for the men. We can therefore adjust the dates between April and May. However, with an additional problem for France, a number of girls have a double objective: the Olympics at 7 and the World Cup at XV. And these players are essential to both teams and both preparations. We had everything planned so that they could go on Tournament, preparation for 7 and Games, then World Cup. But there, the possibility that they will be made available on both projects is turned upside down. We will have to adapt …