Sport across the world is in a difficult and troubling place. And rugby is no different.
We have already seen that the US Rugby Union have filed for bankruptcy and the Australian Rugby Union have stood down 75% of their workforce. While closer to home, the IRFU have implemented pay deferrals to all professional players in the country.
No one could have predicted the current global pandemic, but the indefinite suspension of the global rugby season perfectly illustrates the unstable financial ground on which the sport stands.
There are already reports that some clubs in England could be on the brink of extinction if the current campaign is ultimately cancelled.
“Today we have had to deliver the hardest news imaginable."
Rugby Australia could lose a significant amount of revenue if their Tests against Ireland are cancelled. https://t.co/aoC9RYxlg8
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) March 31, 2020
Former Ireland international Bernard Jackman, who has experience of coaching both in the Top 14 and PRO14, is in a good position to describe how clubs operate financially throughout Europe and he says the current situation highlights how “fragile” and “brittle” the sport of rugby union is.
“One of the reasons I was keen to get out of France was that I saw how fragile it was,” Feed The Heroes ambassador Jackman said.
“That was just a case of a sponsor and business going into receivership, or how a change of strategy from one sponsor could affect the whole financial set-up in a club.
“I felt that working for a union would be a much more stable way of creating an environment for a coach and to play. When I was playing in Ireland, bar that time there was a rumour that Connacht were going to fold, everything was stable for a player. All you had to worry about was being able to train and play to the best of your ability to hopefully be able to win.
“Whereas in France, there was a lot of financial pressures there all the time. Even in a non-pandemic situation. Sometimes they get out to the press, a lot of the time they don’t, it’s just kept in-house.
“Now, this is a global issue and it’s affecting every country. We can see how brittle our game is, how fragile our game is, how a lot of clubs are living hand to mouth, how there’s no buffer for any sort of crisis, whether it’s long-term or short-term.”
The medium-term and long-term repercussions of coronavirus (Covid-19) on the sport of rugby union will not be known for some time but Jackman expects that salaries for coaches and players will drop in the future, in addition to a decrease in the overall number of players a club or a union has on their books.
“I think there’s going to be a big readjustment in the game. I think playing and coaching salaries are going to drop, maybe back to where they were five or six years ago. Potentially squads are going to get smaller, more reliance on academy players, definitely fewer pro players.
“From a rugby point of view, a lot of clubs carry extra players in a World Cup year because obviously they lose players to the World Cup. If there’s ever a year where there are too many players, it’s in a World Cup year. Guys who perform well manage to stay in the system somewhere but the system by its nature gets rid of underperformers every year.
“This year, there would have been a natural readjustment anyway for the clubs with five or six international players having five or six players too many, they wouldn’t have carried those five or six again next season. But now with the constraints financially, there are probably another five or six players where they’re going to look at an academy player as cover as that third-choice player in the squad.”
“Effectively, you could see each club having 10 fewer players next season than they normally would. Those players are going to find it hard to find employment because, in the Championship, we already saw the cutbacks happening there without any pandemic.
“That market is going to be dead in the water because those clubs are going to be under pressure because of the loss of revenue from sponsorship. The French market, Pro D2 clubs are under big pressure and Féderalé 1 clubs have reduced budgets.
“As professionals, a lot of players dreams and careers are going to end coming out of this crisis, which is very sad. Some players have probably played their last game, having had great careers and wanting to retire with another game. It’s not going to happen.”
Pictured is former Irish Rugby international player and Feed The Heroes ambassador Bernard Jackman. Jackman is encouraging the public to continue donating to the Feed The Heroes fund. Feed The Heroes, a national fund set up two weeks ago to raise funds to provide Ireland’s critical frontline workers with nutritious meals as they front Ireland’s response to the Covid-19 emergency, has raised €560,000 in just two weeks. To date more than 21,000 meals have been delivered nationwide.