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RFU warns of 'catastrophic' effects if Test rugby can't resume until 2021

Bill Sweeney says the English union will lose out on £107 million if the November Tests are cancelled.

BILL SWEENEY, THE RFU’s CEO, has warned of the “catastrophic” effects if international rugby is unable to resume until 2021.

The entire sport is currently on shutdown due to Covid-19 restrictions and some medical experts have pointed to the difficulty of rugby returning due to the contact element of the game.

International games will pose a major challenge too given the need for teams to travel across borders.

While it is still hoped that rugby will resume in 2020 – behind closed doors at first – unions around the world are also planning for a worst-case scenario.

cj-stander-with-george-kruis England and Ireland played at Twickenham in February. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Having to play Test matches behind closed doors, or even seeing more fixtures in 2020 called off, would have major financial implications for unions, with Sweeney laying out the RFU’s projected figures in stark fashion today.

Speaking to the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee earlier, Sweeney said the RFU has already lost out on £15m due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Sweeney told the committee that the RFU will lose out on £85 million if this year’s autumn Tests have to be played behind closed doors.

If the autumn games are cancelled altogether, Sweeney said the RFU will lose out on £107 million in revenues.

As for the possibility of rugby not being able to resume until the summer of 2021, due to it being the “contact sport of contact sports,” Sweeney warned of severe consequences.

“That would be catastrophic,” said Sweeney. “85% of our revenues come from hosting the men’s international games at Twickenham.

“Twickenham is a major asset for us and if you compare it to the Southern Hemisphere teams, most of them don’t own their own stadiums.

“When you own a stadium like that, it’s a major cost but at the same time you can generate a tremendous amount of revenue from that. 

“Hence the importance of the autumn internationals taking place in November. If this was to be prolonged and go through to the summer of next year, then the 2021 Six Nations games would be affected.

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“That would have a catastrophic impact on rugby union in England. All of the money we generate is fed back into the professional game and community game, so we’d be looking at some very severe situations there in needing potential levels of support.”

While these figures relate specifically to the RFU, it’s clear just how serious the possible effects on international rugby – either with crowds or behind closed doors – later this year and potentially into 2021 are for the sport.

Around 80% of the IRFU’s revenues come from the men’s national team playing at the Aviva Stadium, essentially meaning it is the lifeblood of the sport in Ireland.

Ireland’s home game against Italy in the 2020 Six Nations was postponed. The national team’s two-Test tour of Australia scheduled for July is due to be called off.

Currently, Ireland are set to host Japan, South Africa, and Australia in Dublin in November, while is is also hoped the postponed game versus Italy – as well as the away tie against France – could be played before that run of autumn Tests.

Last Friday, the Irish government released a roadmap for the reopening of society and business in Ireland, with rugby slated for a return from 10 August as part of phase five of the easing of restrictions.

- This article was updated at 1.56pm to include the word ‘million’ in the eighth paragraph.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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