World Rugby chiefs insist the sport is united as it faces the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but calls by John O’Neill, the former Rugby Australia boss, for immediate loans to bail out struggling Unions are unlikely to happen.

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World Rugby is sticking by its statement yesterday in the face of O’Neill’s comments to the Australian media urging the game’s governing body to use the cash generated by last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan to prop up the sport. With CVC, the private equity company that has already bought shares in domestic European rugby circling the sport, World Rugby is seen as the obvious alternative to their deep pockets.

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RugbyPass understands that World Rugby’s priority is to come up with a viable international calendar for when test rugby is able to resume and while loans will be part of ongoing discussions, they are not top of the current agenda. They also insist that the international players are being included in discussions.

It is reported that the chief executives of all Tier One nations and World Rugby’s Executive Committee also agreed to open their books to put together a full financial picture of the sport with one suggestion involving any November tests in Europe. The Southern Hemisphere nations could ask for a share of the revenue from those tests.

Chief executive Brett Gosper, the WR boss, predicted in September a £350m income from the Japan tournament, around half of that could be heading towards the game’s governing body to be used to fund the sport until the next World Cup. O’Neill told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Does anyone actually know how much money World Rugby has? It’s time to stop playing games with secrecy around ‘how much we’ve got’. In times like these you have to put it on the table and hopefully that will create a greater sense of transparency in the code, which isn’t there now.

“World Rugby should not hesitate to help national unions who are financially stressed. Loans at cheap rates, repayable over four years, say, would be the easiest way. Otherwise, they won’t have a game. World Rugby is the lender of last resort.”

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Bill Beaumont, the WR chairman said in his statement after a virtual meeting of the game’s working party: “The latest projections are that the impact of COVID-19 on public and sporting activities could extend for many more weeks, maybe months, and this productive meeting was an important and unified step towards tackling a global problem together in the best interests of all stakeholders.

“We are intensively examining scenario-planning for the scheduled July internationals, should such a plan be required, while also considering ways to optimise the international competition calendar on and off the field for all when it is safe and appropriate to resume rugby activities. This important work will be undertaken by the World Rugby executive under guidance from the Executive Committee and we will work in full partnership with key stakeholders to explore potential appropriate actions.”

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