English rugby simply cannot survive another six months with no fans in stadiums and no games for clubs lower down the pyramid – it’s time for Boris Johnson and his UK Government to intervene.

There have been measures, such as the furlough scheme, which have helped the sport get through to this point, but it is now on a precipice and sports minister Nigel Huddleston should be looking at doing more rather than telling English rugby to look at ways it can support itself.

A lot of different owners are speaking out and there are numerous different figures flying around, but estimates suggest the Premiership clubs have lost as much as £70million between them in the six months since March.

Video Spacer

Video Spacer
Former All Blacks Jerome Kaino guests on All Access, the RugbyPass interview show, ahead of Toulouse’s visit to Exeter

It has to be pointed out that these English rugby clubs were losing money hand over fist anyway and that isn’t all as a result of coronavirus. But if Exeter are losing £1m per month and the absence of fans is costing Wasps £500,000 per month, clearly that isn’t sustainable for very long at all.

Almost all of the top clubs are reliant on wealthy benefactors and how long is it really going to be before a few of them decide that they don’t want to keep putting their hands in their pockets and footing the bill with little prospect of things improving?

It only takes a few to pull out and the sport in this country is in huge trouble. The government should recognise how important this is and put a package of support together, even if that means loans that can be paid back over a long period rather than grants.

The problem goes right to the top with the RFU, assumed by many to be hugely wealthy, struggling financially. So much so that it reportedly still wanted to charge Premiership Rugby £500k to stage the Premiership final at Twickenham, despite there being no fans in attendance on October 24.

It isn’t just rugby that is in serious trouble, it’s other sports as well. The average person on the street probably sees all professional sports as having lots of money floating around and thinks they will be alright, but that simply isn’t the case.

There are those who are completely unsympathetic to the Premiership clubs’ plight and say that they have squandered money unnecessarily on player wages and spent beyond their means so why should they receive government help, but you have to see the bigger picture.

It is probably a reality, though, that if the clubs don’t receive help in the form of financial support or fans being allowed back in sooner rather than later, they will be forced to go back to their players and ask them to take further cuts in order to ensure they have jobs in a year’s time.

ADVERTISEMENT

Much has been spoken about the possibility of Premiership clubs going bust, but grassroots clubs are arguably in an even worse state and we’re talking about the whole game going bust or a significant chunk of it. Lower league and amateur clubs in football are struggling but rugby isn’t even comparable to the round ball game and it’s easy for those outside the sport to underestimate just how perilous the situation is for them.

Below the Championship there is now no prospect of leagues starting up again before January and it could be longer – that is extremely damaging for a lot of people’s mental and physical health as well as clubs’ finances. Everyone has sympathy for the unenviable situation the government finds itself in whereby funds are clearly not unlimited and it has to be asking where you stop when it comes to handing out packages of financial support.

The arts have been supported in different ways and there has been a lot of focus on pubs and restaurants as we know. Sport at all levels now needs help and now is the time for the government to intervene and do its bit to ensure that the benefits of it are still there for all in the years to come.

Clubs at all levels are businesses and a lack of fans in the stadium means money lost in ticket revenue, food and drink sales, sponsorship, hospitality, sales in the club shop and much more. Obviously, getting fans back in grounds somehow would be the ideal solution and it’s a fair gripe that a lot of people have when they question why sports stadiums remain closed to the public but pubs and restaurants are open again.

It doesn’t look like the government is going to change its mind on that, though, and suggestions that testing might be able to be done on the gate and turned around in double-quick time seems a bit far-fetched because of the money involved if nothing else. So, that leaves the sport needing financial aid.

It’s a relief that the top clubs have all made it to this point without going to the wall because there was a genuine fear that one or two might have done already by now. But it’s hard to see them all surviving another six months of more of the same. The game needs help and the benefits it brings to society, the economy and people’s mental and physical health mean it’s worthy of the government’s support in its time of need.

Mailing List

Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.

Sign Up Now