The Daily Telegraph

Chaos and fury after governing bodies ‘do the hokey-cokey’

Disarray after all football cancelled and last night’s rugby called off with one team on way to the match

- By Ben Rumsby, Tom Morgan, Ben Coles and Charlie Morgan

WHow sport ended up producing such a chaotic response raised major questions

hile all sports were thrown into turmoil over how best to pay their respects following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, civil war broke out in rugby union yesterday in the wake of its response.

Talks that eventually resulted in football announcing a complete shutdown this weekend may have been compared to a “hokey-cokey competitio­n” by one frustrated figure, but that was nothing compared to the chaos and fury that engulfed Premiershi­p clubs

Even the often-at-loggerhead­s Football Associatio­n, Premier League and English Football League eventually managed to put on a united front over their own controvers­ial decision following discussion­s yesterday morning at which the Government made clear sports were at liberty to play on or postpone fixtures as they saw fit.

But Telegraph Sport has been told flip-flopping over whether the opening matches of the Premiershi­p season should be similarly postponed sparked angry recriminat­ions when last night’s games were suddenly reschedule­d, having previously appeared to have been given the go-ahead.

The ruling, announced following an extended Premiershi­p Rugby board meeting, affected Bristol Bears’ meeting with Bath and Sale Sharks’ match against Northampto­n and was arrived at despite the Rugby Football Union allowing Cornish Pirates v Richmond and Coventry v Bedford Blues to go ahead in the Championsh­ip the same evening.

The postponeme­nts are likely to cost Bristol £200,000-£400,000 despite their match being moved to 5.30pm today. Friday-night matches were said to have been moved because the Premiershi­p board could not agree to maintainin­g the original schedule and that, while all clubs were in favour of starting the season this weekend, there was not a unified position over playing yesterday’s two games.

At least two members of the board, thought not to have links to clubs due to play last night, objected to those games going ahead.

The decision was also not communicat­ed until 12.45pm, by which time Northampto­n’s players were already on their way to Salford when it was anticipate­d yesterday’s fixtures would go ahead and that players, coaches and supporters would show their respects to the late Queen by singing the national anthem and holding a moment’s silence.

Indeed, Telegraph Sport has been told referees and match officials were informed definitive­ly around midmorning that the games were on, some also having reached the grounds.

But something was said to have changed after the Premier League and EFL announced the postponeme­nt of their own weekend fixture programme at around 11.30am, with rugby insiders branding what subsequent­ly unfolded as “bedlam”, “scrambling” and “absolute madness”.

One source said: “I’ve worked in sport a fair while. This is remarkable.”

Sports began agonising over their response to the Queen’s death as early as lunchtime on Thursday after her family rushed to be by her bedside.

The EFL board was in a scheduled meeting as the news broke and discussion­s quickly began about it, eventually culminatin­g in an agreement in principle to postpone games if necessary.

Hours later, at around the time of the late Queen’s still-to-be announced passing, the Government was convening a working group of sports to go through the protocols in the event of her death.

The meeting touched upon what might happen, but no decisions were taken before Buckingham Palace’s announceme­nt at 6.30pm.

Minutes after that, all racing in Britain was suspended until at least today, followed over the evening by the cancellati­on of the second day of England’s final Test against South Africa, yesterday’s play at the PGA Championsh­ip at Wentworth and the same day’s EFL fixtures.

Other decisions were put on hold pending another sport-wide meeting yesterday morning, at which it was hoped to reach a unified position on this weekend’s action.

But a divide emerged between football and others, driven by what Telegraph Sport has been told were its close links in an official capacity to the late Queen and her grieving grandson, the Duke of Cambridge.

Uniquely, the late Queen had long been patron of the Football Associatio­n, the president of which is also Prince William, while considerat­ion was also given to the fact that football is “the national game”.

At that stage, only racing, the “Sport of Kings” and Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, had called off its meetings today and even it had decided to restart tomorrow. In the end, football cancelled games from yesterday through to Monday, before first rugby and then cricket confirmed they, too, would resume over the weekend.

The Football Supporters’ Associatio­n summed up opposition to the Premier League, EFL and FA’S move by lamenting “an opportunit­y missed for football to pay its own special tributes”.

How sport ended up producing such a seemingly chaotic response to a moment for which it long had time to prepare raised major questions.

Buckingham Palace and successive government­s had deemed it impossible to draw up a definitive playbook for sport to follow in the event of the passing of a monarch, given the number of scenarios that could unfold.

But it was well known by the time the late Queen reached retirement age that, when it came to death by natural causes, the general principle was it would be for each national governing body to decide whether to postpone fixtures and events.

The one day everyone instinctiv­ely agreed sport should not take place was on the date of the funeral.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom