Leading rugby players’ agent Niall Woods believes the current sports shutdown could be the jolt needed for administrators to eradicate the frailties in the games they govern.
The former Ireland wing enjoyed a career playing for Leinster, London Irish and Harlequins before helping form and then lead the Irish players’ representative body IRUPA, now Rugby Players Ireland.
He founded the Dublin-based Navy Blue Sports agency in 2011 and is in a unique position having served rugby as a player, administrator and now agent.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions on travel, social distancing and mass gatherings has hit organised sport hard with rugby no different in having to indefinitely suspend professional leagues and stand staff down with pay cuts or salary deferrals.
It has also exposed the vulnerabilities of many sports business models struggling to survive in the absence of gate and TV rights revenues without government assistance.
That could be turned into a positive, believes Woods, who represents male and female players in all four provinces, the UK, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere as well athletes from other sports and broadcasters.
“All sports are suffering, soccer, cricket, and like any business, no matter what it is, if there’s no revenue coming or not enough revenue you’re going to struggle,” Woods told the Irish Examiner.
“I would think it helps to get a jolt like this for people to realise the frailties that are there and they have probably been choosing to ignore to a certain degree. So hopefully that means this is good for the sport and all sports going forward.”
While the IRFU and provinces have agreed wage deferrals with all employees including playing and coaching staff, many English Premiership clubs have introduced pay cuts with some fearing for their survival.
Woods is confident Irish rugby is well placed by comparison to come out of the lockdown in reasonable shape, as long as the lockdown does not drag past the summer.
“I would say we’re probably the best placed. Knowing the IRFU as I do, from playing first-level rugby 30 years ago, 10 years as a player, 10 years as an administrator, 10 years as an agent, they’re very prudent and I would think they are well protected.
"But again, that is assuming rugby starts again say, for example, in September and certain contracts are honoured, sponsorship, TV rights, all of that.
“So a lot of games that didn’t happen get to be played, certainly at international level.
"I would think the IRFU will be fine. There’s certainly an element of cost-cutting across the board, staff-wise and everything, and the provinces but it will be the same as any business.
“Costs will be looked at and any corners that can be cut or reduced, they are going to have to do it, like I did and probably every company in the country has done.”