Cash-strapped Irish rugby administrators have reported a deficit of €35.7million for the latest annual accounting period up to July 31 after income fell from €87.5m to €79.2m and expenditure increased from €84.2m to just under €115m coping with the pandemic lockdown of the sport.

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Ireland will finally restart their delayed Six Nations with a home game this Saturday against Italy behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium and the record €28m surplus reported in summer 2019 after its best-ever financial year is now a distant memory with officials fearing for the future of Irish rugby as a professional sport if it continues not to have fans attend Test and provincial matches in 2021.

In the 39-page report, which was unusually published without the detailed cash accounts, IRFU CEO Philip Browne wrote: “From an IRFU perspective our finances were tracking according to budget (prior to the March lockdown) and there had been a successful launch and sale of over 5,000 ten-year premium seats.

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RugbyPass went behind the scenes at a packed Aviva Stadium in 2018

“The IRFU’s financial situation was looking quite positive. That situation has changed dramatically and the IRFU is facing an unprecedented cash flow crisis as we try to work towards the objectives of preserving our national teams and four professional provincial teams, ensuring that we preserve the amateur club game and that we protect our employees and their jobs to the extent that we can.

“Whilst the provinces and the IRFU are currently solvent, that ultimately is a time-limited situation and unless there is a return to some level of normality within the next twelve months, with matches being played in front of some reasonable level of paying spectators, the IRFU and the provinces will have to drastically cut their budgets to ensure costs are covered by the lower revenues.”

Treasurer Tom Grace added: “We’re very fortunate to have cash in the bank and an asset strong balance sheet at the moment. However, these resources won’t last forever and any amounts that we are forced to spend now will affect what we will have to spend in the future when some semblance of normality returns.

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“At present, we are able to fund ourselves and the provinces for the next twelve months, even without further remedial action, but this needs to be kept under constant review and our next major review date will be in December.”

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