The future of this year's Super Rugby competition hangs by a thread following Sanzaar's announcement this morning to suspend games for "the foreseeable future" due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Sanzaar chairman Brent Impey said it was too premature to talk about other options for the remainder of the season, but they will be discussed in the coming days.
Impey said suspending the competition was the only decision to make, considering the circumstances after the New Zealand Government declared that every person arriving in the country would need to self-isolate for 14 days in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
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"The first priority is safety," Impey told Jim Kayes on Radio Sport. "The safety of our players, referees and fans so that's what we focused on. In the time frames we've had, considering alternatives wasn't really an option. If you take two of our teams for example, the Crusaders we can get back today from the Gold Coast, they can get through, but the Highlanders on the other hand – their match with the Jaguares got cancelled and they cannot get back before the deadline tonight. So the Highlanders fall within the Government's isolation requirements.
There are 10 weeks to go in the competition, but Impey said it would unrealistic to expect answers about the future within the next 48 hours.
"The whole ecosystem – broadcasters, stakeholders, sponsors – needs to be managed fairly carefully. It's an absolute priority we're just not in a position to give answers."
Impey said the Sanzaar team had been working round the clock over the past 24 hours to sort the logistics of the unfolding nightmare scenario.
"Our broadcasters are our partners in this," Impey said. "New Zealand Rugby will be meeting with Sky very early in the coming week as we consider alternatives, but there are provisions in these broadcasting contracts when events such as this happen and we need to work through the ramifications and come up with alternatives.
"The primary responsibility is to mitigate the damage and that's what we'll be trying to do. Sky is a vital partner of ours and so that will happen in the next few hours. But this isn't just broadcasting and rugby. If you're in the horticulture industry, or the logging industry, or tourism, everyone is impacted. We're just dealing with a very narrow side of it here.
"This goes to the heart of everything. Yes rugby is important, Super Rugby is important, but health and safety is more important."