English governing body leaves clubs in limbo as to what future holds

Opinion: RFU aim for clarity but create confusion

The RFU has ended the 2019-20 season in England at all levels – league, cup and county – except the Gallagher Premiership.

The announcement was meant “to provide clarity and to assist with immediate and longer term planning” but instead it has created confusion with so many questions still to be answered.

What is happening with the Premiership?

RFU aim for clarity but create confusion

Going down? Saracens are due to be relegated this season (Getty Images)

Will there be promotion and relegation? If so, how will this be decided? If not, what happens to Saracens, who are due to be relegated to the Greene King IPA Championship because of salary cap breaches? Will Newcastle, leading the way in the Championship, go up?

Is there any support available to clubs facing financial difficulties?

Yes, these are times of uncertainty and the situation is very changeable, but surely the RFU would have been better waiting until it was able to give a clearer picture of the next steps.

Related: Rugby tournaments affected by coronavirus

Lower down the league pyramid, some clubs who thought they had already secured promotion or were destined for relegation are now in limbo until the RFU makes it clear what will happen in those divisions.

The governing body has said it is now working through the process of ensuring “fair and balanced outcomes for the game” and will announce these by mid-April, but it’s another layer of uncertainty on top of the wider picture of worrying times.

Gallagher Premiership clubs are asking players and staff to take paycuts as they try to weather the financial storm the current postponement of matches is causing. There’s the immediate loss of match-day revenue while the ramifications for TV deals and sponsors is also not yet clear.

With most professional teams’ finances not in the best shape in normal circumstances the current crisis will be a significant blow, perhaps even fatal for some.

That could be especially true for Greene King IPA Championship clubs that were already reeling from the news of RFU funding reductions.

RFU aim for clarity but create confusion

Up in the air: Championship action between Ampthill and Cornish Pirates (Getty Images)

Clubs at lower levels will also be hit financially, losing out on bar takings and other revenue they would usually receive when their facilities are open. This in a season when many have already been dealing with floods and damage caused by the recent storms.

From the top tier to the bottom, clubs will be facing up to tough decisions – and the lack of clarity, leadership even, from the RFU is hardly helping.

Scottish Rugby launched a £500,000 hardship fund on Sunday to help those clubs facing financial challenges.

On Wednesday, the WRU released the first of a new weekly ‘status update’ to lay out plans moving forward and vowed to help all teams and clubs to “emerge from the crisis intact and able to have a sustainable future”. For starters, each club will receive an additional £1,000 in funds by the end of March.

All WRU competitions have also been cancelled for the 2019-20 season, with confirmation that there will be no promotion or relegation.

RFU aim for clarity but create confusion

Cancelled: The IRFU have ended the domestic season in Ireland (Getty Images)

The IRFU ended the Irish domestic season on Thursday night and explained how cups would be shared by finalists while there would be no promotion or relegation in the five divisions in the Energia Men’s All-Ireland League. The union has also announced that playing, coaching and administration staff are taking pay deferrals of between 10-50% to help cut costs during the Covid-19 crisis.

Those three unions have delivered clear messages to their membership while the RFU – the biggest of the lot – has only been able to tell people that the season is ending. No detail on the aftermath. Let’s hope for answers – and soon.

The April issue of Rugby World magazine – focusing on a new generation of Six Nations stars – is out now.

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