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'IRFU no longer has the capacity to absorb increasing costs of the professional game'

Rising player costs are eating in to increased broadcast revenues.

Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

THE IRFU ISSUED their annual reports today with CEO Philip Browne sending a stark message to Irish provinces that the union can no longer be the ‘lender of last resort’.

Increases to player and management costs around the provinces have largely wiped out the surplus of €5 million taken in from increased broadcast revenue and the extra fixtures of a World Cup year.

“The increase of almost €6m in player and management costs,” a statement says, “arises, in large part, from the necessity to provide against operational amounts due from the Munster Branch, in light of their current financial difficulties…”

The southern province were permitted to miss last year’s repayment of €200,000 on a loan from the IRFU, though they did pay the sizeable interest on the borrowing.

The union’s ‘close to breakeven result’ also includes the unbudgeted €1 million payment divided between four provinces to combat wage inflation. However, Browne’s remarks in the report signal that the union will not continue to scramble and move funds around in an effort to make the provinces equally financially attractive as their big-spending rivals in England and France.

Instead, he has urged Pro12 teams to widen their revenue streams and says Irish Rugby will invest more in player development to negate the need for overseas talent on these shores.

“The size and quality of the playing squads that these clubs (in France and England) can assemble from around the world has changed the balance of power in Europe to the detriment of our Provinces and the IRFU who simply cannot match the playing budgets of these teams,” said Browne.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the professional game in Ireland can no longer rely on the IRFU being the ‘lender of last resort’ as the IRFU no longer has the capacity to absorb the increasing cost of the professional game as Irish Rugby struggles to respond to the inflating player market in England and France.

“The risks to the Irish professional game are potentially profound and one of the key mitigation strategies is to invest in our pathway to develop better quality players more quickly through a more effective pathway.”

Stephen Hilditch Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Today’s council meeting also saw the appointment of Stephen Hilditch as the IRFU’s 129th president. The former international referee is a member of Belfast’s Grosvenor RFC.

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Sean Farrell

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