LONDON, England (Reuters) - Cancellation of this year’s November internationals and the 2021 Six Nations due to coronavirus restrictions would have a “catastrophic impact” on the Rugby Football Union’s finances, CEO Bill Sweeney said on Tuesday.
Sweeney told a British Parliamentary committee that the RFU’s finances were in “pretty good shape” after extensive cost-cutting and the furloughing of more than 60% of the union’s staff, but that they are being forced to plan for a worst-case scenario in terms of a return to play.
Sweeney said that 85% of the union’s income comes from hosting games at Twickenham, where each match generates more than 10 million pounds.
England are due to host New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia in November. Those games remain very much in the balance due to likely travel restrictions, with alternative games against northern hemisphere opposition - possibly even an autumn Six Nations - being discussed.
England are also at home to Scotland, Italy and France in the regular Six Nations next February and March, with some concern that restrictions on public attendance of sports events could still be impacting on the potential to house 82,000 spectators.
“If this were to go into summer of next year, with no November internationals, and if the Six Nations was affected, it would have a catastrophic impact on the game in England,” Sweeney told a Department for Culture, Media and Sport Committee teleconference.
Sweeney said the union - rugby’s biggest and richest - had been working our how they would deal with a series of scenarios for this year.
“If the autumn internationals go ahead, and we are assuming certain declines in spectator numbers, we’ll still lose something like 32 million pounds in revenue through to the end of the next financial year,” he said.
“If they go ahead but are behind closed doors, that would be an impact of 85 million, and if they are cancelled it would be 107 million - on top of the 15 million already lost this year.”
Sweeney said that there had already been a major round of cost-cutting that had “clawed back” 13 million of the 15 million projected loss and that he was targeting 20-25 million in savings by the end of next year.
“If we are one of the last clubs off the rank because of the contact and characteristics of the sport, we would need extra help,” he said.
“We have 60% of our staff furloughed. If Six Nations matches are off in 2021, then there would be a limit in what we could do and we would have to go to the government for extra support.
“It is not going to be a short-term issue, we are looking at a four-, five-, six-year recovery plan.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Hugh Lawson