The Championship and League 1 clubs considered a number of options for the 2021 season at a virtual meeting on Wednesday evening.
The consensus reached was that the Championship season could and should be delayed by several weeks from the scheduled start of late February. This is a result of the current public health situation and the likely implications on the return of fans to elite sport.
For similar reasons, the League 1 clubs were supportive of a longer delay to the start of their season. Their season will now begin later in the spring.
This will also allow a staggered return to training following the pause advised by the RFL last week. It will also take into account the needs of players to prepare thoroughly after such a long lay-off.
Championship clubs have been cleared to return from this weekend (Saturday January 16). However, this will initially be only “Stage 1 plus” – which permits socially distanced (non-contact) training outdoors.
It is hoped they can move to Stage 2, which includes contact training, by February.
League 1 clubs will be cleared to begin a similar staged process in February – with all clubs at each level required to satisfy the RFL that that they are able to meet strict conditions regarding testing and biosecurity.
England Women’s scheduled return to training this weekend has been postponed by a week. Further discussions will be held with Women’s Super League clubs this week about their pre-season training schedule.
Further details of the schedule for the 2021 Championship and League 1, including the early rounds of the Challenge Cup, will be published over the weekend.
Ralph Rimmer, the RFL Chief Executive, said: “We have been grateful to our clubs throughout the last 10 months for their responsible and constructive approach to such a challenging period for all, and Wednesday’s meeting was another example of that.
“A staged return to pre-season training, after the short pause advised last week, followed by a staggered start to the Betfred Championship and League 1 seasons, represents the best way for us to combine this responsibility with other priorities of player welfare and the financial sustainability of our clubs.”