Bill Beaumont on fears that rugby faces financial apocalypse

‘Everyone is going to suffer’: World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont on fears that the game faces financial apocalypse as he calls for unity and state support

  • World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont says the game faces a very testing time 
  • Beaumont is fearful the coronavirus outbreak could leave rugby in financial ruin 
  • Fears are growing that clubs and major unions could go bust within months
  • World Rugby have asked all unions to present best and worst-case scenarios 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Bill Beaumont has warned rugby’s global community that ‘everyone will suffer’ in the fall-out from the coronavirus shutdown, called for unity and urged governments to help prop up the sport.

The 68-year-old chairman of World Rugby — the game’s international governing body — and former England captain outlined to Sportsmail on Wednesday how the authorities are seeking to respond to the pandemic, which has raised the threat of a looming financial apocalypse.

Fears are growing that clubs and even major unions could go bust in the months ahead, with USA Rugby filing for bankruptcy and Australia and New Zealand predicting losses of £60million and £50m respectively.

World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont is fearful of the effect coronavirus could have on the sport

In response to the crisis, World Rugby have asked all unions to present best and worst-case scenarios, as they prepare a so-called ‘Marshall Plan’ of loans, designed to stave off insolvency until fixtures resume.

It is understood they will seek to borrow money, secured against reserves of £150-£200m.

Beaumont revealed that the organisation can intervene, to an extent, to assist rugby nations facing extreme hardship, but there will be tough times ahead.

Beaumont has also called on governments worldwide to help rugby from financial ruin

‘At World Rugby, we have financial reserves and we have to look at how we can preserve the global game,’ he said.

‘We have been very prudent over the years, so we have funds, but we don’t have enough funds to bail everyone out.

‘The World Cup in Japan made a profit which was very similar to what it was in 2015. It was a great success commercially.

‘If this happened now and there hadn’t been a World Cup last year, we would all be staring down the barrel.

‘So we are lucky in that respect, but there is only so much in the pot. We are not like the IOC (International Olympic Committee), who are sitting on enormous reserves.’

Last year’s World Cup – won by South Africa in November – now seems a very long time ago

There have been urgent talks to create contingency plans for the sport. Beaumont confirmed that the priority has been to work out whether the July Tests in the southern hemisphere and Far East — including England’s back-to-back matches in Japan — can go ahead, but these would be state-level decisions. ‘We are awaiting what governments will say about July, but there will be no decision for at least a month,’ he said.

World Rugby are determined to broker deals which provide a solution for all parties and guard against a them-and-us mentality. In the southern hemisphere, the July Tests are vitally important sources of revenue.

For European unions, the prime objective is to reschedule the postponed Six Nations games and ensure the November internationals go ahead as planned.

There has been speculation that the autumn programme could involve a revenue-share arrangement or even Tests in both the north and south.

Beaumont confirmed ‘those are options we are currently looking at’ but added that a grim period awaits. The prospect of no November matches would be a doomsday scenario.

‘We are well aware of the financial situation down south. The southern unions are looking at the July Tests and the northern unions are looking at the November Tests, but we are all in it together. There is no one who is going to make a lot of money during this time. Everyone is going to suffer.

Beaumont believes regardless of the measures put in place, rugby unions will take a big hit

‘I am very confident the unions will work together through this. Northern unions will feel the impact, too. If none of the northern teams could stage November Tests, then the situation would become extremely serious, but there is a spirit globally that we are all in this together.

‘We don’t know what the solutions will be until this all pans out a bit more. I cannot say that, right now, we have a solution for this. Unions will want to resume matches, but clubs will want to resume their seasons, too.’

Whenever rugby is given the all-clear to restart, there is sure to be a frantic scramble to fill every available weekend. But Beaumont warned: ‘It has to be controlled. It can’t be like the Wild West. People can’t have gold fever, all chasing the pot of gold. Everyone needs to know where they stand.

‘It’s a jigsaw. At the moment we have just about put the outside of it together, but now we need to sort out the middle bit.’

Rugby has to pull together and look after its own, but Beaumont suggested aid must come from elsewhere, too.

‘Governments have a responsibility as well,’ he said. ‘I’d like to think that any union in a real plight could approach their government for help, because they are the national brand of their sport,’ he said. 

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