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RFU seeking to cut quarter of workforce amid Covid-19

Twickenham Stadium (by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has spelled out plans to cut a quarter of its workforce, adding that it expects it will take up to five years to recover from the financial impact of Covid-19.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said a consultation process with staff will be launched, allowing them to share their “views and ideas on re-shaping the business” ahead of any decisions being announced at the end of August.

The RFU has proposed that the total number of roles across the organisation will reduce by 139, with its workforce totalling 580. Speaking in May, Sweeney said the organisation could take a revenue hit of £85m (€94.1m/$106m) if autumn internationals are held without fans, or £107m if they are cancelled outright.

Covid-19 has already led to the postponement of various matches in the 2020 Six Nations and there are concerns that the pandemic will impact fixtures planned for later in the year. England are due to play New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia at Twickenham on consecutive Saturdays in November.

Sweeney is one of a number of RFU executives to have taken a pay cut of more than 25 per cent, with the organisation having been hit by a £15m loss in the weeks since the outbreak. World Rugby has advised that matches will need to be played behind closed doors until a vaccine is available.

Sweeney has also previously stated that an unprecedented home-and-away format for the Six Nations must be a one-off, should the format end up being approved. The format is one of various plans being considered by organisers for the 2021 tournament.

In a message to the rugby union community in England, Sweeney said yesterday (Monday): “As you will be aware the long-term financial challenges are significant for the whole economy. We like many rugby clubs rely on revenue from matches and events at Twickenham Stadium and we re-invest this revenue back into the game.

“Our detailed scenario modelling shows there may be a short-term impact of £107m in lost revenues and we also know there will be a much longer-term effect. We are projecting a 4-5 year recovery with cumulative revenue reductions of around 20 per cent.”

He added: “We have already made some significant cost savings. We furloughed 60 per cent of our organisation; implemented a three month pay reduction which has been extended for some; introduced pension pauses; and refined business planning and introduced stadium and office running efficiencies to reduce costs.

“Unfortunately, this is not enough to run a sustainable operation and safeguard our future. We need to maintain our organisation for the long-term, this is not a short-term cost reduction exercise, the RFU will still stand, but the impact of Covid-19 will continue to affect us for many years to come.”

The RFU posted group revenues of £213.2m for the 2018-19 season, up by £40.8m on the previous year, and driven largely by an increase in international matches played at Twickenham over the season. Over the period, ticketing revenues increased by £17.7m (59 per cent) to £47.6m, while hospitality and catering income increased by £13.3m (32 per cent) to £54.5m.