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English Rugby losses in pandemic lead to renewed call for bailout

Rugby Football Union has warned that an expected £145m revenue shortfall because of the pandemic will lead to a sharp drop in funding across the sport unless the government steps in with a bailout.

The RFU, the body that runs English rugby union, said in its annual report covering the 2019/2020 season that revenues fell 22 per cent to £167m after matches were cancelled because of the coronavirus, compared with £213.2m in the same period a year earlier.

Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the RFU, said the loss of broadcasting, ticketing and hospitality revenue would likely amount to about £145m, meaning it could not reinvest as much towards clubs and grassroots initiatives as it had planned.

Last season, the RFU spent £94.7m on “rugby investments” but said this funding would need to be reduced in the years to come.

“While the financial position of the Union remains sound, it is clear that we are going to need to adjust levels of reinvestment to reflect a new reality,” said Mr Sweeney. 

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“In the immediate term we also have to recognise that we are not in a position to carry the whole game through an extended financial crisis. We have therefore requested that the government makes available a package of support for recovery funding to protect the integrity of the community game.”

The RFU made a pre-tax loss of £14.7m in 2020, compared with a profit of £11.9m a year earlier, although the RFU said it had always expected to make a loss in the year after the Rugby World Cup, the global tournament which is among the biggest moneymakers for the sport’s national governing bodies.

The RFU will start to make a recovery as the England men’s team resumes action on Saturday in the Six Nations, the European rugby union tournament that had been postponed in March. The team will also play in the Autumn Nations Cup, a new tournament between eight countries, later this year.

But the RFU will be hit hard by the decision by the UK government not to allow crowds in sports stadium for the next few months because of a resurgence of the virus.

The body estimates that 90 per cent of its revenues from direct or indirect sources related to the seven or so matches the England men’s team plays each year at Twickenham, its stadium in west London.


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