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SARS-CoV-2 transmission during rugby league matches: do players become infected after participating with SARS-CoV-2 positive players?
  1. Ben Jones1,2,3,4,5,
  2. Gemma Phillips1,2,6,
  3. Simon Kemp7,8,
  4. Brendan Payne9,10,
  5. Brian Hart11,
  6. Matthew Cross12,13,
  7. Keith A Stokes7,13
  1. 1 Carnegie Applied Rugby Research (CARR) centre, Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK
  2. 2 England Performance Unit, Rugby Football League, Leeds, UK
  3. 3 Leeds Rhinos Rugby League club, Leeds, UK
  4. 4 Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
  5. 5 School of Science and Technology, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia
  6. 6 Hull Kingston Rovers, Hull, UK
  7. 7 Rugby Football Union, Twickenham, London, UK
  8. 8 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  9. 9 Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  10. 10 Translational and Clinical Research Institute, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  11. 11 Catapult Sports, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  12. 12 Premiership Rugby, London, UK
  13. 13 Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Ben Jones, Leeds Beckett University - Headingley Campus, Leeds LS6 3QT, UK; B.Jones{at}


Objectives To examine the interactions between SARS-CoV-2 positive players and other players during rugby league matches and determine within-match SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk.

Methods Four Super League matches in which SARS-CoV-2 positive players were subsequently found to have participated were analysed. Players were identified as increased-risk contacts, and player interactions and proximities were analysed by video footage and global positioning system (GPS) data. The primary outcome was new positive cases of SARS-CoV-2 within 14 days of the match in increased-risk contacts and other players participating in the matches.

Results Out of 136 total players, there were 8 SARS-CoV-2 positive players, 28 players identified as increased-risk contacts and 100 other players in the matches. Increased-risk contacts and other players were involved in 11.4±9.0 (maximum 32) and 4.0±5.2 (maximum 23) tackles, respectively. From GPS data, increased-risk contacts and other players were within 2 m of SARS-CoV-2 positive players on 10.4±18.0 (maximum 88) and 12.5±20.7 (maximum 121) occasions, totalling 65.7±137.7 (maximum 689) and 89.5±169.4 (maximum 1003) s, respectively. Within 14 days of the match, one increased-risk contact and five players returned positive SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) tests, and 27 increased-risk contacts and 95 other participants returned negative SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR tests. Positive cases were most likely traced to social interactions, car sharing and wider community transmission and not linked to in-match transmission.

Conclusion Despite tackle involvements and close proximity interactions with SARS-CoV-2 positive players, in-match SARS-CoV-2 transmission was not confirmed. While larger datasets are needed, these findings suggest rugby presents a lower risk of viral transmission than previously predicted.

  • COVID-19
  • sport
  • infection
  • virus
  • community

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. All data are presented in the manuscript.

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ’s website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. All data are presented in the manuscript.

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  • Twitter @23benjones, @drsimonkemp, @drkeithstokes

  • Contributors BJ and GP conceptualised the research project. BJ, GP, SK, MC and KAS conceptualised the study. BH and BJ were responsible for data analysis and interpretation of the results. BJ drafted the manuscript. GP, SK, BP, BH, MC and KAS provided initial reviews and editing of the manuscript. All authors critically reviewed and edited the manuscript prior to submission.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests BJ and GP are employed in a consultancy capacity by the Rugby Football League. KAS and SK are employed by the Rugby Football Union. MC is employed by Premiership Rugby. BH is employed by Catapult Sports.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.