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'We have to protect the business' - Ulster place all players and coaches on furlough

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Ulster rugby have announced that 70% of their staff have been placed on the UK's furlough scheme, including all players and coaches.  Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Ulster rugby have announced that 70% of their staff have been placed on the UK's furlough scheme, including all players and coaches. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ulster rugby have announced that 70% of their staff have been placed on the UK's furlough scheme, including all players and coaches. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Ulster have announced that they have put all of the club's players and coaching staff on furlough due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The prospects of rugby returning to any sort of normality took a blow yesterday when the government announced that mass gatherings were banned until the autumn, while one of the country's leading medical experts Professor Sam McConkey has warned that rugby is a while away from being allowed to resume given the physical nature of the sport.

Ulster chief executive Jonny Petrie has revealed that approximately 70pc of the club's staff have been placed on the UK government's job retention scheme.

Petrie explained that Ulster were topping up earnings to a deferred salary level, which had been agreed with the IRFU and all four provinces earlier this month.

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"Everyone understands the situation and wants to work together," Petrie told the BBC.

"We have to protect the business so that when we come out of this, we are are at least as strong as when we went in.

"Reaching agreement with players was not a particularly challenging process as everyone sees it as fair in the present climate and environment.

"We will review the employment situation as we go through the next few weeks when we have some clarity, can plan around facts and an environment exists for our players to return and work and take part in structured training.

"Like thousands of other businesses in Northern Ireland, we have seen a really challenging environment with the current situation.

"I'm not saying we are in a really precarious position but obviously the longer this goes on the more difficult it becomes.

"Like many others we have sought to take advantage of the relevant government schemes at a time when we still have many of our costs but we don't have anywhere near our level of revenues coming into the organisation with matches not being played.

"As well as VAT holidays and rates reliefs, we also moved quickly to defer percentages of salaries right across the organisation in line with the IRFU and the players were included in that.

"The issue is that deferral was resolved positively very quickly as all the players were understanding of why we were doing it. We had to look at what we could do as an organisation to ride out the current period."

Ulster were in fine form before the season was brought to a halt by the coronavirus and were preparing for a Champions Cup quarter-final in Toulouse as well as pushing for the PRO14 title.

Petrie insisted that the province were eager to salvage the season, but he warned against making any rash decisions around the scheduling of games.

"It is important people don't act too quickly around that,” he added.

"I think everyone wants to see the season completed if we possibly can. It's right that matches in the meantime have been postponed rather than cancelled until we see what shape the future holds."

Elsewhere, Top 14 organisers (LNR) have cancelled the semi-finals of the French league, which were due to take place in Nice on June 19 and 20.

France remains on lockdown until May 11 and while the LNR have not yet ruled out the possibility of resuming the league in late summer, they will adhere to all government guidelines.

Online Editors