Government restrictions will have a huge financial impact on game in England

Rugby facing prospect of no fans in stadiums for six months

The Government’s tighter Covid-19 restrictions mean fans may not be able to attend live rugby matches in England for the next six months.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney and Premiership Rugby CEO Darren Childs, along with officials from other sports, met with culture secretary Oliver Dowden and were told that there is a possibility spectators will not be able to return to stadiums until the end of March.

The absence of supporters at matches is having a huge impact on both the RFU and Gallagher Premiership clubs, who all rely heavily on ticket revenue.

The national governing body has already had to make huge cuts and is now warning of a £138m reduction in revenue should England‘s Autumn Nations Cup and 2021 Six Nations matches at Twickenham have to be played behind closed doors.

“We all need to follow the advice given and play our part in helping to get the virus under control,” said Sweeney. “No crowds at Twickenham for the Autumn Quilter Internationals, the Premiership in October or the Championship and community game will, however, have severe consequences for the sport in England across all levels.

“With no fans this autumn we will see a £122m reduction in revenue resulting in a loss of £46m and with no fans for the Guinness Six Nations we will see a £138m reduction in revenue with a loss of £60m thereby preventing investment in areas such as the women’s elite game and community rugby.

Rugby facing prospect of no fans in stadiums for six months

Behind closed doors: Empty stands at the Bath v Gloucester Premiership match (Getty Images)

“Premiership and Championship clubs will face significant financial hardship. Our community rugby clubs, many of which run grounds at the heart of their communities, are under threat. Without crowds and league games community rugby will lose an estimated £86m in revenue this season.

“The RFU has already made difficult decisions in significantly reducing our sevens programme, reducing investment across all areas of the game, implementing salary reductions and making 140 people redundant. All of these decisions will have a significant and lasting impact on rugby.

“From the outset we have been clear that an autumn without crowds would leave us with little choice but to approach government for financial help. Unfortunately, we are now in that position. Without support we are in danger of clubs at the heart of communities across England, as well as players and volunteers, disappearing forever.

“Sport is vital for people’s physical and mental health, both of which have never been as critical as they are now. We appreciate the very difficult challenge that Government faces and Government acknowledges the importance of sport to communities and society as a whole and the need to safeguard our future.”

The Premiership clubs are also presenting a grim financial picture. Even Exeter Chiefs, one of the league’s few profitable clubs, have said they are losing £1m a month at present.

Childs said: “The announcement that supporters will not be allowed into stadiums for up to six months cuts off crucial revenue for the Premiership Rugby clubs who have already suffered significant financial losses from suspending the season and playing matches behind closed doors since March.

“We believe the lack of supporters in our grounds could cause irreparable damage to our clubs and the communities they serve so must find a way forward to avoid this.

“As we seek solutions we look forward to working with Government on a rescue package for professional club rugby in England and we will continue to seek innovative ways to overcome these challenges to ensure Premiership Rugby and its clubs have a future.”

In attendance: Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds at England v Wales in March (Getty Images)

The Government is set to keep the restriction of fans at live sporting events under review and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I recognise the implications for our sports clubs, which are the life and soul of our communities.

“The chancellor and the culture secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”

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