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'Without Government support sport will take a generation to get back on its feet' - IRFU chief's 'catastrophic' warning

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IRFU chief executive Philip Browne. Photo: Sportsfile

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne. Photo: Sportsfile

The Government has yet to approve the IRFU's plan of rugby returning on the weekend of August 22/23, but chief executive Philip Browne warned of dire consequences for the sport if it is not allowed to resume.

The union hope to restart with two rounds of interprovincial fixtures played behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium, before moving to the Guinness PRO14 play-offs and Champions Cup knockouts in September and October. Then, it is hoped international rugby can resume with the unplayed Six Nations matches and potentially re-fixed July matches and scheduled November internationals. Browne painted a bleak picture of the union's position if the sport cannot be played with the union set to lose between €10-15m even if the internationals take place behind closed doors.

That figure rises to €15-20m if the matches don't take place, while the cancellation of the 2021 Six Nations could cost the IRFU €30m.

Describing the situation as "catastrophic" across sport, Browne called for Government intervention.

"It is not sensationalist to suggest that without Government financial support sport will take a generation to get back on its feet, leaving an enormous void at the heart of communities," he said.

The IRFU implemented a pay deferral scheme in March and Browne said that could not continue indefinitely.

He said discussions with Rugby Players Ireland and a group of senior players are ongoing, but warned that "if we don't see some light at the end of the tunnel there will have to be some very radical actions taken if we want to come out the other end of this in one piece.

"We're spending tomorrow's money today in order to keep afloat," he said.

"Fundamentally, what we're going to have to do is adjust our cost base and there's no way around that.

"There's going to end up being a pretty severe market adjustment within professional rugby around the world," added Browne.

Yesterday's news that CVC Capital Partners have bought a 28 per cent stake in the PRO14 was welcomed by Browne.

The deal will generate €33.5m for the Irish union, paid in instalments over three years. The first instalment of €5.6m landed yesterday and Browne hopes the private equity firm's plans for revenue generation will help the game recover from the Covid-19 crisis.

The plan to restart rugby could require players signing a waiver given the risks to their own health and Browne said the union would be understanding of any individual who was not comfortable going back due to health concerns.

"We'll obviously be conscious of any player's individual circumstances," he said. "We'd be more than conscious of making sure we do the right thing."

Browne added that he hoped travelling squads would be exempted from quarantine rules that could see people forced to self-isolate for two weeks on arrival.

Irish Independent