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Irish rugby is 'far from out of the woods' warns IRFU at its AGM

CEO Philip Browne told the union’s AGM that is still in financial crisis.

The Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
The Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE IRFU HAS warned that Irish rugby is “far from out of the woods” due to the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The loss of income due to supporters being unable to attend games since the start of the pandemic has had a major impact on the union.

IRFU CEO Philip Brown says further cuts may be required unless the union receives more government support this year and fans can begin to flood back into stadiums soon.

While there have been some positive moves with the return of small crowds to test events including two Ireland Tests at the Aviva Stadium earlier this month, it remains unclear whether larger crowds will be allowed into rugby venues at the start of next season.

The IRFU has made some staff redundant over the past year, while all employees – including professional players and coaches – have taken pay cuts and many have been moved onto four-day working weeks.

The union will release a full financial update this November, which is later than usual due to the IRFU’s financial year end moving permanently to 31 July to ensure alignment with the new global rugby season.

But Browne stressed that the union will continue to be reliant on support from the Irish government, its sponsors, and broadcasters until stadiums are full again, adding that the union had already implemented a 10% permanent cost base reduction.

“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,” said Browne.

“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.

“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.

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“The schemes available from the government are vitally important to on-going operations, but these result in accumulated debt of c. €30m in PAYE to date, this will eventually have to be paid. 

“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.”

Today’s AGM heard that the bulk of the IRFU’s 2021 losses “are already realised as the 2020/21 season has now concluded” and that the union has suffered a 47% reduction in turnover for the six months to the end of June 2021, compared to the first half of 2019.

IRFU honorary treasurer Patrick Kennedy told the online meeting that despite positive developments including the Covid vaccination levels, test events, and a gradual relaxation of government restrictions, rugby is “far from out of the woods”.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that the IRFU president, Des Kavanagh, senior vice president, John Robinson, and junior vice president, Greg Barrett, will remain in their respective roles for the forthcoming season.

Munster’s Fiona Steed and Connacht’s Yvonne Comer have been appointed to the IRFU Committee.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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