The cost of cancellations and postponements in the Irish rugby calendar due to the coronavirus outbreak will now hit the pockets of those involved in the professional game after an agreement was struck for a payment deferral model for all employees of the IRFU and its provinces.
The IRFU, Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster Rugby today partnered with professional player representative body Rugby Players Ireland and its members to agree to payment deferrals for all employees based on what it described as an equitable sliding scale ranging from 10% of salaries up to 50%.
The deferrals will come in from April, “and beyond if required”, the IRFU said in a statement issued yesterday, “but will remain subject to constant review of the financial circumstances of the IRFU and provinces”.
“The IRFU hopes to return to full pay, and repay any deferrals, as soon as possible,” it added.
With the cancellation of the Six Nations home game against Italy and the provinces out of action since the last weekend in February, the lack of gate, bar, and hospitality income means revenues have been slashed across the board.
This week’s decisions to suspend the Guinness PRO14 campaign indefinitely beyond its initial decision to shut down until April 10, and, independently, to postpone the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, saw the prospect of any immediate return to action disappear and provincial players, unable to train as squads, have now been stood down for eight weeks until May 18.
Ireland are not likely to complete their 2020 Guinness Six Nations campaign, with games against Italy, and away against France, until the autumn, while their summer tour to Australia, with Tests against the Wallabies scheduled in early July for Brisbane and Sydney, is thought to be in serious jeopardy.
Yet it is understood there are plans to complete the provinces’ seasons in July and August, though not necessarily by fulfilling the existing fixture list.
There are eight of the 21 rounds of the PRO14 regular season still to be played ahead of the play-offs and three knockout rounds remain in the Champions Cup with Leinster and Ulster still in contention in Europe.
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne expressed hope that these outstanding games could be played this summer.
“We are entering uncharted waters as the Covid-19 crisis continues to unfold, but we remain hopeful that something of this season can be retrieved later in summer,” he said. “This is important as the whole game, amateur and professional, is financially dependent on the resumption of the professional tournaments and the revenues that they generate.
With postponement of these tournaments, the IRFU and the provinces are facing some daunting financial challenges around loss of revenue and cash flow and we must cut our costs.
“The IRFU has worked closely with our provincial colleagues and our partners in Rugby Players Ireland to move to protect the future of Irish Rugby and this arrangement will allow Irish Rugby the breathing space required in relation to cashflow that can ensure that when this crisis abates, we still have a business that can deliver for all those that play and love rugby.
"The situation will obviously remain under continuous review in case further action is required.
“I thank all our partners, Rugby Players Ireland, and all our employees for standing with us at this time.”
Although the payment deferral agreement affects all IRFU and provincial employees, it is the playing staff, both centrally and provincially contracted, who represent the largest proportion of the total wage bill and Rugby Players Ireland needed to be an integral part of the partnership.
“We recognise the need to work with the IRFU with respect to these payment deferrals in light of the current circumstances,” said RPI chief executive Simon Keogh.
“All endeavours have been made to contact those affected on an individual basis. Our members appreciate that such moves are necessary in order to protect the future of the game in this country.
The health and safety of the public is the priority at this time. We will continue to work with the IRFU as this situation develops.
The drying up of revenue from the rugby shutdown is not restricted to Ireland.
A string of English Premiership clubs, including reigning European champions Saracens, announced pay cuts for its players and staff.
The Londoners added their club to a list also including Wasps, Worcester, and Gloucester, whose chief executive Lance Bradley tweeted: “Tough day today, having to tell our players and staff we need to cut everyone’s wages by 25%. But I was incredibly proud of their response — ‘we’ll do what it takes to get our Club through this’.
“It really brought a lump to my throat.”