RFU seeks financial help after govt postpones fans' return to stadiums

(Reuters) - England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) CEO Bill Sweeney painted a bleak picture for the sport as he asked the British government for financial support after its U-turn on allowing fans in limited numbers at stadiums amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - England v Wales - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - March 7, 2020 England's Owen Farrell celebrates winning the match with teammates as they pose with the triple crown REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that, as part of new restrictions to tackle a second wave of COVID-19, the government was putting on hold plans for 25%-33% capacities from Oct. 1.

England are set to play three internationals in the new eight-team Autumn Nations Cup in November-December and they had been hoping to have at least 20,000 fans at Twickenham Stadium.

“With no fans this autumn we will see a 122 million pounds reduction in revenue resulting in a loss of 46 million pounds,” Sweeney said in a statement on Tuesday.

“With no fans for the Guinness Six Nations we will see a 138 million pounds reduction in revenue with a loss of 60 million pounds thereby preventing investment in areas such as the women’s elite game and community rugby.

“Premiership and Championship clubs will face significant financial hardship... Without crowds and league games, community rugby will lose an estimated 86 million pounds in revenue this season.”

In July, the RFU had projected a short-term revenue loss of 107 million pounds due to the closure of Twickenham as international matches are the main source of income for all unions.

The RFU had also proposed making 139 positions within the organisation redundant after finances took a massive hit over the last six months.

“From the outset we have been clear that an autumn without crowds would leave us with little choice but to approach government for financial help. Unfortunately, we are now in that position,” Sweeney added.

At a meeting on Tuesday, officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told sports governing bodies to prepare for no spectators for up to six months.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said the new restrictions threaten to cause “irreparable damage” to English top-flight clubs.

“We look forward to working with government on a rescue package for professional club rugby in England and we will continue to seek innovative ways to overcome these challenges to ensure premiership rugby and its clubs have a future,” he added.

Reporting by Rohith Nair and Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis