Fears coronavirus could upend World Rugby’s entire international schedules for 2020 and 2021

30 March 2020 - 13:29 By REUTERS
It could be a while before South Africans see the Springboks in action in a competitive match again
It could be a while before South Africans see the Springboks in action in a competitive match again
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

Rugby Australia (RA) on Monday said World Rugby’s entire international schedules for 2020 and 2021 could be upended by the coronavirus as nations scramble to cut costs and shore up revenues during the pandemic.

Chief executive Raelene Castle said home tests against Ireland and Fiji in July were “highly unlikely” to go ahead, while November fixtures in Europe could also be sacrificed to complete Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship (TRC).

Super Rugby, the sprawling competition involving teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, was suspended earlier this month after seven rounds of the season.

On the international side, Australia are scheduled to play New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina in the Rugby Championship (TRC) in August and September.

The Wallabies were also to travel to Ireland, France and England at the end of their season but Castle said in a conference call that the tour might be jettisoned if it meant keeping the domestic game afloat.

RA may instead have to look at rescheduling delayed games at the back end of the year to meet the needs of broadcasters and sponsors.

“Delivering Super Rugby and TRC might be something that we need to consider doing,” Castle said.

“(For) 2021, there’s a high probability that the calendar won’t look exactly like it looks at the moment. I think there’s a lot of uncertainty over the cost of flights, how far players will want to travel.”

Castle was also unable to guarantee that Australia would be able to maintain its four teams in Super Rugby — the Queensland Reds, New South Wales Waratahs, ACT Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels.

“That’s the model that we will be working to,” she said.

“But it would be crazy for us not to be thinking about other scenarios that might roll out.” 

The loss of broadcast revenue has put further pressure on RA’s finances after the governing body reported a provisional A$9.4 million ($5.8 million) operating deficit for 2019 on Monday, pending a final audit.

The loss was due in part to fewer home tests and lower sponsorship revenue in a World Cup year but also because of a A$6.6 million increase in expenditure, including the costs of settling an unfair dismissal legal battle with former Wallaby Israel Folau.

Chairman Paul McLean revealed that RA was unable to deliver its 2019 annual report due to uncertainties over future cash and reserves.

Castle said she had taken a 50% pay cut and the rest of the RA executive team were taking 30% cuts to reduce costs as part of measures to ensure RA would remain cash-positive for at least the next three months.

Further difficult conversations loom on Tuesday with the players’ union, who accused RA of locking them out of discussions over the future of the game — an allegation Castle denied.

RA would also continue working with other sports to lobby the government for financial assistance and were also hoping for some kind of relief from global governing body World Rugby.

“There will certainly be some level of support from World Rugby but we’re not yet sure what that level will be,” she said.