World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper has said it may still be possible to schedule international rugby matches this November although it appears increasingly likely that Northern Hemisphere countries’ summer tours of Southern Hemisphere nations will have to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gosper anticipates a decision within 10 days on whether the tours will take place.
He told L’Équipe: “The problem is that no union wants to make the decision to cancel its tour, not least because there are, among other things, insurance contract implications.
“Participants are waiting for government decisions and directives. That said, all unions, from the north as well as from the south, know that it is unlikely that these tours will take place.”
Gosper said World Rugby is working with its member federations to create a timetable that would allow each of them to earn money from international Tests this year, which might help to plug the financial shortfalls created by any event cancellations.
In an earlier interview with L’Équipe, Bernard Laporte, French Rugby Federation president, had suggested national team tours scheduled for the summer could be moved to November. But Gosper said this was only one of several options being considered by the global governing body.
Europe’s top rugby nations already have home international Test matches scheduled against Southern Hemisphere sides in November.
England and Wales are both scheduled to tour Japan this summer, with Wales also having set up matches in New Zealand. Scotland are due to travel to South Africa and New Zealand, while Ireland has organised matches in Australia and Italy is to visit North America and Argentina.
Sanzaar’s Super Rugby club competition, which involves teams from Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, is currently suspended indefinitely. The Rugby Championship, the annual Southern Hemisphere national teams competition, is scheduled to take place in August and September.
The need to support individual rugby federations was reinforced earlier this week when USA Rugby, the governing body for rugby union in the United States, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The organisation cited “insurmountable financial constraints” and blamed the Covid-19 outbreak for accelerating its pre-existing economic challenges.
Gosper said World Rugby would provide €1m ($1.09m/£0.88m) in financial support to the federation and would also offer administrative help, adding that the compensation figure could ultimately rise to €2m.
He said that he hoped that what has happened to the federation “will not break the momentum of rugby in the United States.”
He continued: “It should be remembered that this federation was already fragile following the collapse of a private sports marketing entity [Rugby International Marketing] that managed the commercial rights to the 2018 Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco. While USA Rugby was already in the red, everything accelerated after the cessation of competitions in North America because of coronavirus.”
Other national federations facing financial difficulties include Rugby Australia, which recently announced a provisional A$9.4m (€5.2m/$5.8m) operating loss for 2019 and warned of increasing problems owing to the pandemic.
England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) has said it expects revenue losses of between £45m (€49m/$53.6m) and £50m over the next 18 months, adding that Covid-19 is set to “considerably” increase a projected loss for the financial year.
World Rugby said it is beginning to receive financial projections from all of its federations that will help it to understand the magnitude of the crisis and will continue to try to compensate struggling organisations.
Gosper noted: “The various World Cups, as well as the very interesting financial outlook of the 2023 World Cup in France, put World Rugby in a favourable position. I’m not saying we have unlimited funds, but we can borrow to help federations that are, or will be, in great financial difficulty.”
In an interview ahead of last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, World Rugby chief commercial officer Tom Hill told SportBusiness that he expected the tournament would exceed the £265m generated by the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.