Help us or we’ll lose clubs for good, warns RFU’s Sweeney

CEO tells Gov­ern­ment that rugby is fac­ing fi­nan­cial ruin Lack of crowds ex­pected to cost £344m in lost rev­enue

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Covid Crisis - By Gavin Mairs

For the Rugby Foot­ball Union, yes­ter­day’s gov­ern­ment an­nounce­ment could not have been any worse, with the ban on sup­port­ers at­tend­ing sport­ing events for six months af­fect­ing not just the au­tumn Na­tions Cup but also the en­tire Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship next year.

The Rugby Foot­ball Union, which has al­ready made 140 peo­ple re­dun­dant, pre­dicted a to­tal loss of rev­enue of £138mil­lion with­out crowds dur­ing that pe­riod, and an over­all loss of £60 mil­lion, a huge fi­nan­cial blow to the gov­ern­ing body.

The im­pact on com­mu­nity rugby would be equally as crip­pling, with the RFU pre­dict­ing that with­out crowds and league games, the grass­roots game would lose £86 mil­lion.

Premier­ship Rugby clubs are also fac­ing a bleak fu­ture with­out any gov­ern­ment sup­port. Sev­eral clubs are ex­pected to go un­der, with pre­dicted losses of rev­enue at over £120 mil­lion if no crowds are al­lowed at matches be­fore April. That takes the to­tal rev­enue lost for English rugby union to £344mil­lion.

Bill Sweeney, the RFU chief ex­ec­u­tive and his Premier­ship coun­ter­part Dar­ren Childs, both met Oliver Dow­den, the Cul­ture Sec­re­tary, yes­ter­day to out­line the alarm­ing ex­tent of the dam­age the ex­tended re­stric­tions would have.

The meet­ing was said to have been pos­i­tive, with op­ti­mism that there would be sig­nif­i­cant sup­port.

“We un­der­stand the dif­fi­cult bal­ance the Gov­ern­ment faces in con­trol­ling the spread of the virus while en­abling parts of so­ci­ety and the econ­omy to re­main open,” said Sweeney. “We all need to fol­low the ad­vice given and play our part in help­ing to get the virus un­der con­trol. No crowds at Twick­en­ham for the Au­tumn Quil­ter In­ter­na­tion­als, the Premier­ship in Oc­to­ber or the Cham­pi­onship and com­mu­nity game will, how­ever, have se­vere con­se­quences for the sport in Eng­land across all lev­els.

“From the out­set, we have been clear that an au­tumn with­out crowds would leave us with lit­tle choice but to ap­proach the Gov­ern­ment for fi­nan­cial help.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we are now in that po­si­tion. With­out sup­port we are in dan­ger of clubs at the heart of com­mu­ni­ties across Eng­land dis­ap­pear­ing for ever.”

Premier­ship Rugby is to hold sep­a­rate ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Gov­ern­ment to se­cure a bailout that would pre­vent sev­eral clubs from go­ing out of busi­ness.

“The an­nounce­ment that sup­port­ers will not be al­lowed into sta­di­ums for up to six months cuts off cru­cial rev­enue for the Premier­ship Rugby clubs who have al­ready suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial losses,” said Childs.

“We be­lieve the lack of sup­port­ers in our grounds could cause ir­repara­ble dam­age to our clubs and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve.

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