Rugby league boss Charles Carlson has defended his code’s initial refusal to help combat the Covid-19 virus by calling off its games.
Cook Islands Rugby League finally cancelled its local competition yesterday – but only after being publicly called out by Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Herman for failing to understand the significance of the country’s challenge.
At a major tourism leaders meeting yesterday, attended by nearly 200 people, Dr Herman criticised Cook Islands Rugby League for dragging its feet on shutting down the contest.
Health authorities, following international guidance from the World Health Organization that has proved effective in combating the coronavirus overseas, are urging people to minimise social contact with each other in their workplaces, schools and communities.
Herman said football and netball had moved quickly to cancel all games, after government's plea for groups to abandon all big meetings. The touch rugby season has also been abandoned, as have sailing and even children’s swimming lessons.
But despite pleas from health authorities, rugby league initially refused to cancel its games.
“Rugby league decided they were not going to postpone games and that is unfortunate,” Dr Herman said.
“When we have a body that does not understand the significance of what we are doing – well, I want to be polite, but ...”
Later in the day, Cook Islands Rugby League reversed its position, and announced that all games would be suspended until further notice.
Cook Islands Rugby League president Charles Carlson is also Emergency Management Cook Islands director, in the Office of the Prime Minister.
He said the initial decision to continue with this weekend’s games was made by the clubs: they wanted to carry on and see how things went.
They went badly.
At that meeting, people asked why they should have to shut down when the country was still only Code Blue.
“Perhaps if we were on Code Yellow, which means Alert, or Code Red which means Activation of National Emergency, there would not have been any hesitation in closing the league games immediately,” Carlson said.
Instead, they agreed to encourage washing hands, coughing etiquette, and other measures. “The decision wasn’t taken lightly.”
However, after consulting with their communities, pressure mounted to call off the competition. “As a result we decided to cancel all games indefinitely,” he said.
“This coronavirus pandemic will also affect our international test match versus Samoa in June, so it does have a big impact with the sporting community, locally and internationally.”
Cook Islands Touch has put on hold its Vodafone Touch Competition and will resume at a later date. Touch players are encouraged to maintain their individual fitness at this time and be safe.
Cook Islands Sport and Olympic Committee Secretary-General Owen Lewis said the main concern was the health and safety of their athletes and sporting communities.
They had discussed the danger of large gatherings and contamination through sport, as a meeting at the weekend.
As a result, they unanimously agreed to postpone the Cook Islands Sports Awards and the 2020 Annual General Meeting. They also urged sports bodies and clubs to suspend activities that attract a gathering of more than 20 people;
“We understand that sport is a large part of many people’s lives, which will be missed at the moment,” Lewis said.
“However our current priority is to make sure that decisions are made to ensure the health and wellbeing of all players, coaches, officials, staff, volunteers and all of our families is maintained.”
Additional reporting from Jonathan Milne.