SYDNEY, May 22 (Reuters) - One of the last barriers to the resumption of Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) next week was removed on Friday when the referees union confirmed they would officiate matches despite an ongoing labour dispute.
The NRL, the most popular winter sport on Australia’s east coast, will be the first major professional league in the country to resume after the COVID-19 lockdown when the Brisbane Broncos take on the Parramatta Eels next Thursday.
Referees, however, had threatened the restart after the league decided to reduce the number of officials on the pitch from two to one as a cost-cutting measure.
The Professional Rugby League Match Officials (PRLMO) have lodged a case with the Fair Work Commission — Australia’s industrial mediation service — but said on Friday that they would turn up next week whatever the outcome.
“Rugby league will start next week,” the union said in a statement.
“That’s the unwavering commitment from us ... to rugby league fans around the country.”
The union said that their complaint about the reduction of on-field officials was “not about us” but about the safety of players and “fair and real consultation”.
The statement added that if PRLMO was successful in the case at the Fair Work Commission, they expected the NRL to “respect that decision and have two referees on the field”.
The NRL, alone among the major rugby league-playing nations, has had two referees on the pitch since 2008 to try to reduce foul play in the tackle area and speed up the game.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford