The Annual Council Meeting of the Irish Rugby Football Union has been told that the ongoing impact of Covid-19 means the governing body is still at significant financial risk and rugby is “far from out of the woods”.
There was no full financial update with the IRFU moving the end of its financial year to July 31 in line with the new global season and audited accounts set to issued in November. Yet delegates at the online AGM on Thursday heard there had been a 47% reduction in turnover for the six months to the end of June 2021, compared to the first half of 2019 and chief executive Philip Browne told the IRFU website: “Our two largest income-generating home games every two years against England and France were held behind closed doors with a loss of match income of over €16m. These are the games that keep Irish Rugby going.”
IRFU Honorary Treasurer Patrick Kennedy told delegates of the importance of assistance from government, sponsorship and broadcast deals to the organisation’s survival but that despite positive news surrounding the Covid vaccination rollout, successful pilot test events for safe spectating in stadia and the gradual relaxation of government restrictions, rugby is “far from out of the woods”.
In a significant move, Munster’s Fiona Steed and Connacht’s Yvonne Comer were appointed to the Union Committee in accordance with recently approved governance changes that from 2023 a minimum of one in four nominees to the IRFU Committee from each province must be female.
The meeting also confirmed that current President Des Kavanagh, Senior Vice President John Robinson and Junior Vice President Greg Barrett, will remain in their respective roles for another season due to the effect Covid had on their terms last season.
Aside from limited numbers being allowed at the recent Ireland men’s summer series Tests against Japan and the USA, Browne addressed the continuing absence of supporters at both Aviva Stadium and the four provincial grounds.
“Irish Rugby is continuing to grapple with the most significant financial crisis in our history and we are expecting to report another year of losses in 2021, when our audited accounts are released later this year.
“We have made encouraging progress in recent weeks with the return of increasing numbers of supporters to various sporting and cultural events, which leaves us hopeful that fans may return in meaningful numbers to our grounds in Autumn.
“I would like to thank the government, in particular Minister Chambers and his department officials for their commitment to facilitating the safe progressive return of fans to stadia.
“As the only sporting organisation fully supporting a professional game, we are dependent on the national and provincial teams’ ability to generate revenues which have been decimated by the impact of Covid restrictions since March 2020.”
Browne added: “Without additional government funding in 2021, and a return of fans to our stadia in meaningful numbers later this year, the IRFU would once again have to review all activities and swiftly implement another round of very unpalatable cost reductions. Further cuts, if necessary, would have a significant impact on the organisation and all activities from grassroots to pro game pathways.”