Rugby Australia secures COVID-19 relief loan

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Rugby Australia has secured a loan from World Rugby's COVID-19 relief fund in a big boost for the organisation amid the sporting shutdown.

World Rugby ticked off a low interest, long-term loan of $14.2 million from its roughly $A158 million fund for Rugby Australia.

The loan will be critical in helping shore up Rugby Australia's financial future and will also allow the national body to present its audited accounts before the end of May.

Rugby Australia reported a provisional $9.4 million loss for 2019 after its annual general meeting last month, a number not entirely dissimilar to the $9.8 million loss in the 2015 Rugby World Cup year.

With the coronavirus shutting down Super Rugby in March and the Test schedule in peril, then Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle projected a worst-case scenario of up to $120 million in lost revenue for 2020.

Since then, the chances of an Australian Super Rugby competition, hopefully including the Western Force and possibly the Sunwolves, kicking off on July 4 have increased.

Australia's July Test matches, along with the rest of the world's, were postponed on Friday afternoon but it is hoped they can be played in October.

Both New Zealand and Australia have expressed hope that they will at least be able to play in a trans-Tasman bubble in the final months of the year, should wider international travel still be restricted.

The major challenge for Rugby Australia now that World Rugby's funding has been approved is working on a broadcast deal for the remainder of 2020 and for 2021 and beyond.

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle had said that the organisation was on the verge of finalising a broadcast deal just a week before the coronavirus forced the Super Rugby season to shut down but since then negotiations have been paused.

Interim CEO Rob Clarke, and newly announced board addition Hamish McLennan, are expected to drive the negotiations for a new agreement for this year with the competition changes and the picture in 2021 and beyond.

Clarke welcomed news of the loan in a statement on Friday afternoon.

“Our game has suffered an enormous impact globally from COVID-19 and we are very grateful for the support of World Rugby and commend them on their leadership in managing this issue for the global game," he said.

“The financial implications of the virus have been significant for Rugby Australia and this emergency relief funding will provide us with certainty for the next twelve months and enable us to close off our 2019 accounts.

“The funding, in combination with the extensive cuts made across the business, provides us with the short-term impetus to see through the pandemic but does not solve all of the challenges.

“The Board is continuing to work through its plans for organisational reform and additionally there are key conversations to be had across the game’s stakeholders about our Rugby offering for 2020 and beyond.

“The World Rugby funding provides a much-needed boost and a level of security as we continue this important work.”