England is working on the assumption its Six Nations campaign and quartet of autumn test matches can be played across October and November as the Rugby Football Union seeks to avoid losses of around $150 million during the coronavirus outbreak.
No rugby has been played in Britain since the middle of March because of the pandemic, which has plunged the RFU and other unions around the world into financial strife.
As the British government continues its planning to ease the lockdown, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said his organization was looking into testing protocols and how to secure “bio-secure environments” so that rugby can restart in the country.
England has one game outstanding from the Six Nations — an away match against Italy, postponed from March 14. A win could clinch the title for Eddie Jones’ team. It then has November tests scheduled against New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia over successive Saturdays at Twickenham.
“At the moment, the assumptions are that the remaining games in the Six Nations can be played in October and November and we are still aiming toward that scenario,” Sweeney told lawmakers in a select committee hearing on Tuesday.
On still being able to fulfil its quota of autumn tests, Sweeney added: “We have worked with World Rugby and the Six Nations, and the intention is to schedule those in October and November.”
Sweeney said 85% of the RFU’s revenue comes from hosting men’s international games at Twickenham, so the cancellation of autumn tests and possibly even the 2021 Six Nations would be “catastrophic” in his view.
Asked if that worst-case scenario could lead to the RFU filing for bankruptcy, like the United States’ rugby union has, Sweeney said English rugby was “not in a similar situation” and that its financial model was “inherently strong.”
The RFU, Sweeney reported, is planning for a reduction in revenue of 15 million pounds ($18.7 million) through to June, which marks the end of the financial year. As much as 13 million pounds ($16.2 million) of that could be clawed back through cost reductions, he added.
However, even if the autumn tests go ahead, the RFU still stands to lose around 32 million pounds ($40 million) in revenue in the next financial year. If international games are canceled entirely in the 2020-21 season, Sweeney said the losses would amount to 107 million pounds ($133 million) on top of the 15 million pounds already lost.
“It will not be a short-term issue,” Sweeney said. “I hear a lot of people saying we will get back to rugby, we will get back to playing sport later in the year, that things will be fine, we will have the Six Nations next year and off we go.
“But we are working in terms of maybe a four-, five-, maybe six-year recovery plan to get fully back on our feet.”
The RFU also announced British sportswear brand Umbro will be England’s uniform supplier from Sept. 1, replacing Canterbury. No financial details of the deal were disclosed, but sections of the British media reported it was worth 5 million pounds a year ($6.2 million).
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