World Rugby is drawing up an action plan to ensure leading unions do not go to the wall as the financial impact of coronavirus starts to bite. The governing body is examining the books of all tier one nations, pledging to quickly help the most needy and prioritising the Test calendar which generates the bulk of the sport’s revenue.
The Rugby Football Union said this week that it expected to lose up to £50m in the next financial year, Australia will be down £45m if the shutdown continues for the rest of the year, New Zealand would face a shortfall of £60m, Wales’s loss will be far greater than budgeted for and all the unions have issued, or are considering, pay cuts. They have all opened up their books for inspection so the extent of the downturn may be gauged and talks with tier two countries will follow.
A virtual meeting of World Rugby’s executive committee and professional game committee, which contains representatives from all the major unions, was held on Monday. It agreed that the executive should deliver an action plan as soon as possible. The profit from last year’s World Cup is expected to be £165m, giving the governing body the means to offer financial support, although no union is in immediate danger of collapsing.
The first task is to draw up contingency plans for this year’s two Test windows, in the south in July and Europe in November. Wales are scheduled to play Japan on 27 June and during the following three weekends New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina all host Six Nations sides, while Italy have matches against the United States and Canada and the Springboks have a fixture against Georgia in Port Elizabeth.
“We are intensively examining scenario planning for the July internationals,” said the World Rugby chairman, Bill Beaumont. “We will be working in full partnership with key stakeholders to explore potential appropriate actions. Only by working in full partnership with our unions, the professional leagues and international players will we be able to deliver a solution that will reduce the impact of this extraordinary challenge.”
It is unlikely to be before the end of next month that World Rugby knows how many, if any, of the tours will go ahead as individual governments will decide whether visiting teams will be allowed in. Two contingency plans are being considered, the first of which would see the tours postponed until August.
The second would alter the nature of the November internationals. Under the current schedule, host unions take all the money generated by a Test, unless it is a fourth international. If there are no matches in the south this summer but Europe enjoyed a full programme, it would ordinarily mean a significant revenue imbalance but World Rugby is looking at a way of sharing the proceeds.
One option would be for the teams from the southern hemisphere to host a couple of matches and there is a willingness of the various unions, club organisations and players associations to work together. The RFU and the French Rugby Federation only allow World Rugby to speak directly to their professional clubs over player welfare problems, but that has been lifted to ensure Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby are part of the dialogue.
While Test rugby will be the priority on resumption, the club matches that will recommence first will be those where no cross-border travel is involved which gives French and English clubs a better chance of completing their leagues than the Pro14.
Last year, the Six Nations failed to unanimously support World Rugby’s proposal for a nations league that would have been worth £6bn over 12 years and provided insulation in the current crisis. The European Unions turned instead to the private equity company CVC with which they remain in talks over a 15% stake for £300m, money that would now absorb losses rather than be used for investment.