The IRFU’s welcome of the Irish Government’s roadmap out of the current Covid-19 pandemic concentrated on the positive impact of last Friday’s announcement on domestic rugby. Yet in the wake of warnings of dire financial consequences for the English game should Test rugby not reappear before the end of this year, there will be anxiety on this side of the water if a similar fate befalls the Ireland team.
Yesterday was sobering for rugby administrators as the rest of the population stretched its legs a little further in the first wave of the Government’s easing of restrictions.
While people ventured up to five kilometres from their houses rather than two, IRFU bosses in common with their colleagues across the planet will have been first digesting World Rugby’s medical guidelines for the safe return of the sport and the assertion that matches in front of large crowds will be unlikely before a Covid019 vaccine becomes widely available, something not considered feasible for some time yet.
The financial impact of such a scenario on the sport was then underlined by English rugby’s top man, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, who along with the country’s other professional sports bodies, made a scheduled appearance before the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee and described the possibility of no rugby and Test matches in particular before 2021 as “catastrophic”.
Sweeney explained that 85 per cent of the RFU’s income stemmed from the international game, while it is understood Test rugby accounts for 81 per cent of the IRFU’s revenues, which in the last published accounts for 2018/19, totalled €87.5 million. The RFU chief executive said it would lose £15m (€17.2m) in this financial year ending in June. If the scheduled autumn internationals went ahead with crowds, it will still lose £32m (€36.7m) in the 20-21 financial year.
Playing at Twickenham behind closed doors would see losses of £85m (€97.5m) rising to £107m (€122.7m) if those games were cancelled Asked to comment on Sweeney’s comments, an IRFU spokesman last night told the Irish Examiner that it was “not in a position to comment at the moment”.
It did, though, issue a response to the Government’s “Roadmap for Reopening Society & Business” published last Friday, welcoming the commitment to permitting the contact sport to return in the fifth and final phase of the roadmap on August 10, if all goes well in the first four phases due to begin on May 18.
“Rugby clubs are a vital amenity for fitness and wellbeing in local communities,” the IRFU said. “It is a priority for Irish Rugby that these clubs play their part in the reopening of society.
“The plan, published on Friday, is a huge step towards the reopening of our clubs and we will be working to fully understand the details of this plan with our friends and colleagues in Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
“We will bring these learnings to the plans we have been working on to reopen, on a phased basis in line with government frameworks. Public safety and adherence to public health measures are at the heart of this plan.
“The IRFU will reach out to clubs when this planning process is complete.”