After a summer of change on and off the field, Chairman Peter Tom says Leicester Tigers are “fully ready for action”.
There has been no rugby at Welford Road since February and the entire stadium has been closed to visitors since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March.
But Gallagher Premiership rugby is due to return to the Tigers’ home ground with a fixture against Bath Rugby on Saturday, August 22 – a week after the opening game of the season’s resumption at Exeter Chiefs – followed by a midweek visit from London Irish just four days later.
With all of the work done during lockdown, we are already in a position where we can welcome supporters as soon as the authorities give us approval.Peter Tom, Tigers Chairman
A huge amount of work has already gone into being prepared for the re-opening of the stadium to visitors and, in due course, the return of supporters on matchdays.
Peter Tom, Chairman of Leicester Tigers, said: “We believe that, with all of the work done during the lockdown, we are already in a position where we can welcome our supporters as soon as the relevant authorities give us approval.
“I have said many times during this period that our first priority was to ensure the survival of this great club in unprecedented times and I am incredibly proud of the people behind the scenes, including the unsung staff who supporters possibly never even see, who have been working so hard to get us to this point and be able look forward to the journey ahead.
“Our season ticket holders, supporters, commercial partners, corporate clients and club staff have been incredibly supportive and we have also been able to welcome new incoming partners which I think says a lot for the Tigers and our relationships with stakeholders.
“I would like to thank everyone who has got behind us. Although the doors have had to be closed to the outside world for the last five months, a huge amount of work has been done to be ready for the day we can open them again at one of rugby’s iconic stadiums.
“Tigers are an active and important part of the community and we’ve been working closely at all levels with local authorities and with the game’s governing bodies and their medical advisers to prepare for the game’s restart.”
When the club’s Oval Park training ground re-opened in June, players were initially only allowed in small, socially-distanced groups before the phased return stepped up under director of rugby Geordan Murphy, new head coach Steve Borthwick and World Cup-winning performance coach Aled Walters.
Although the doors have had to be closed for the last five months, a huge amount of work has been done to be ready for the day we can open them again at one of rugby’s iconic stadiums.Peter Tom
Communal areas remain closed and social distancing is still in place off the field, while protective screens have been added to gym areas where equipment is being cleaned by players after each use.
Players and coaching staff are subject to health checks each morning, temperature checks on arrival and weekly COVID testing as part of Premiership Rugby’s build-up to a return to play.
Club doctor Harj Singh remains in regular contact with the health authorities, a COVID officer ensures the club’s compliance with health and welfare guidance, and a Return To Play group among staff has been focused on the logistics of getting rugby back on the pitch and supporters in the stadium.
Changes have been made at Welford Road to allow for the safe return of office staff, while partners Levy are addressing catering areas in preparation for when supporters can be admitted.
During this same period, the club has taken its retail operation back in house and launched a range of playing and training kit with new suppliers Samurai which has attracted record numbers of pre-orders online. The shop at Welford Road is scheduled to re-open on August 17.
“This has been a unique situation in the club’s 140-year history,” Chairman Peter Tom added. “But we feel we are in a good place as we address the implications of the lengthy shutdown.
“We all appreciate our superb home stadium and we sincerely hope we can welcome a significant proportion of the Tigers Family as soon as possible within the guidelines relating to their safety.
“As part of that we are also hoping to be able to celebrate the work of the NHS and our many season ticket holders who are involved in it by giving them a special welcome to Welford Road soon.”