The sports industry has been forced to think on its feet in an effort to keep events running as smoothly as possible throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and rugby is by no means an exception to that rule.
With only one month to go until the 2022 Six Nations kicks off on February 5, organisers are scrambling to decide on how the competition will proceed given the ongoing spread of the Omicron variant.
There are currently no restrictions on fan attendance or large gatherings in England provided attendees can provide proof of their vaccine status or a negative Covid-19 result taken in the past 48 hours.
However, Ireland and France have capped attendances at a maximum of 5,000 people, while Scotland are allowing no more than 500, and the Welsh government has banned spectators from events altogether.
It's led to the suggestion that Walescould move their home fixtures across the border to England, rather than suffer a second straight Six Nations campaign without supporters present.
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) reportedly missed out on around £14million in revenue after they were forced to play last year's home games against Ireland and England behind closed doors.
That was accounted for in the WRU's most recent financial report, which showed net debt had soared to £114.4m in the wake of a year stunted as a result of Covid-19.
And rather than see history repeat itself, Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has thrown his support behind the idea of a single host nation in order to maximise profits.
The Premiership boss acknowledged a major part of the Six Nations' appeal is teams proving their mettle in a variety of climates and atmospheres, but a competition with capacity crowds is also a high priority.
“For the national bodies, their responsibility goes beyond the professional sport, it goes right down to grassroots rugby, so if playing the tournament provides a level of income that cancelling it or no crowds doesn’t create, then we’ve got to look at the next best scenario,” Baxter told reporters on Wednesday.
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“If the next best scenario is playing it in one country, where you can have sellout crowds, you can raise some revenue and you can keep that income stream going for all the bodies, then it’s got to be better than cancelling it.
“I think with every sporting body, it’s revenue that is the biggest thing that has been damaged, so anything that can keep revenue online has got to be preferable to just binning things for a season.
“We’ve all had to try and find a way to keep going, to try and keep revenue coming in. It’s the same with any business, you’ve got to explore those options.”
One presumes the intended host would be England given the government's more liberal approach to match attendance, not to mention the wide selection of suitable venues to host matches.
France recently introduced measures demanding athletes entering the country are double-vaccinated, but moving the tournament to a single nation could circumvent that potential obstacle.
It's understood Six Nations organisers would prefer games to be played with no fans rather than postpone them, but individual unions may be in opposition to sacrificing 'home' advantage.
Title favourites France, for example—who finished as runners-up to Wales in 2021—may prefer to host low-attendance matches on their own soil, rather than play the tournament in enemy territory.
The change would also be of huge benefit to England, who finished an all-time low of fifth in last year's Six Nations but are scheduled to host just two of their five games this time around.
That's without mentioning the logistical quagmire in regards to how revenue would be divided, with questions as to how much Italy could earn from a 'home' game played at Twickenham, for example.
Desperate times call for drastic measures, although both Six Nations organisers and individual unions are waiting to hear back from their governments concerning updates to pandemic measures.
Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the United Kingdom after a record number of positive test results (218,724) were reported on Tuesday.
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