World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin estimates the sport has taken a £1billion hit in lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gilpin was speaking as World Rugby outlined a four-year strategic plan until 2025 that includes tackling what he describes as “the three Cs of Covid, calendar and concussion”.
The international, club and community games were put on hold last year due to Covid-19 and Gilpin said: “We think from the work we have done over the last six to nine months through our member national unions that probably the overall damage is in the region of £1billion.
“We say that because we’ve worked, obviously, at the elite level of the game to understand the impacts of Covid and huge revenue drop-off have had. We don’t know, of course, what the damage really is in the community game and I don’t think probably anyone does at this stage.
“What we have seen in countries that are starting to open up in the community is that players young and old are flooding back to rugby clubs in almost record numbers. We really need and hope that happens around the world and people get back to the sport quickly, then I think we can all move forward and be successful. I don’t think we have got any predictions on how long it will take.
“But what we do need to do – and are committed to doing – is working really hard throughout every stakeholder level of the game to make sure we get back to the types of participation numbers we had across the game pre-Covid, the types of audience engagement numbers we had, and then build on that.
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“The past year has presented huge challenges. The pandemic has forced us to abort community rugby across the globe, it’s led to unprecedented disruption for the elite game and has created huge financial strain on our national member unions, on professional clubs and leagues across the world. As an organisation, a sport and a family, this plan will guide how we tackle the three Cs of Covid, calendar and concussion, and build the foundations for a safer, stronger and more sustainable game for all.”
Continued tackling of concussion is at the forefront, and Gilpin pledged engagement with the likes of Progressive Rugby, a new lobby group calling for urgent reform in the sport. England World Cup winner Steve Thompson is among a group of former players suffering early-onset dementia symptoms who are preparing lawsuits against rugby’s top governing bodies.
Gilpin added: “Over the last year, we have heard the brave stories and testimonies of former players who have come forward and talked about their struggles with dementia. We are very proud of those players who have shared those experiences. They are part of the rugby family, and we will always stand with them.
“We want to hear all voices from across rugby. We will listen to the players, we will speak to the groups like Progressive Rugby. We have already spoken with several of their members, and we will continue to have an ongoing dialogue with them. We all share that same vision to create a safer, more sustainable game which future generations can enjoy.”
The strategic plan concentrates on four key areas – competition, participation, engagement and the game itself – as it aims to lead rugby beyond the coronavirus pandemic. World Rugby says that player welfare “continues to be the number one priority” and will continue to lead targeted research to inform and advance injury prevention and mental well-being and drive player welfare-centred law review and trials to further protect players at all levels of the game.
In terms of competitions, World Rugby said: “In partnership with rugby’s stakeholders, World Rugby will facilitate discussions and seek to develop a more compelling competition structure and unified approach to Test rugby within the July and November windows. Game-changing targets include the launch of new men’s and women’s emerging nations competitions by 2022 to boost high-performance competition opportunities, as well as a revamped sevens rugby eco-system.”
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