The Rugby Football Union is seeking financial aid from the Government after forecasting losses totalling £106million as a result of fans being absent from matches at Twickenham for up to six months.
Chief executive Bill Sweeney has revealed the perilous outlook that will see a £122million reduction in revenue for the forthcoming Autumn Nations Cup and £138million for the Six Nations.
The impact of these are losses of £46million and £60million respectively, forcing the world’s richest union to request a bailout.
Concern over a second wave of coronavirus infections has resulted in the abandonment of plans for supporters to attend sports venues in England from October 1 as part of new restrictions announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson added that the additional measures would remain in place for “perhaps six months” and there followed a meeting of major sports with Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Sweeney was present to outline the gravity of the situation at Twickenham and in a bleak statement, warned of the possible consequences if assistance is not provided.
“From the outset we have been clear that an autumn without crowds would leave us with little choice but to approach Government for financial help. Unfortunately, we are now in that position,” Sweeney said.
“Without support we are in danger of clubs at the heart of communities across England, as well as players and volunteers, disappearing forever.”
Sweeney, who also revealed that the community game is facing a plunge in revenue of £86million, continued: “We understand the difficult balance Government faces in controlling the spread of the virus while enabling parts of society and the economy to remain open.
“No crowds at Twickenham for the Autumn Quilter Internationals, the Premiership in October or the Championship and community game will, however, have severe consequences for the sport in England across all levels.
“Premiership and Championship clubs will face significant financial hardship. Our community rugby clubs, many of which run grounds at the heart of their communities are under threat.
“The RFU has already made difficult decisions in significantly reducing our sevens programme, reducing investment across all areas of the game, implementing salary reductions and making 140 people redundant. All of these decisions will have a significant and lasting impact on rugby.”
Gloucester chief executive Lance Bradley offered a similarly grim outlook for the Premiership, even questioning whether its existing structure could withstand such losses.
“I don’t want to sound over-dramatic but it can’t be for six months if we want to have professional rugby survive in the format that we know,” Bradley told the PA news agency.
“At Gloucester we had plans for when fans would come back and we planned for some to be back at the start of the new season and for more to be back come in January.
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“It’s a big problem for us not to have fans in grounds because it’s about a third of our income.
“It’s been painful but we can manage that. But there are clubs in worse positions than us. And if there were an extended period with no fans then that would be very serious.
“We can’t just shut everything down for six months. If we’re not allowed to have fans for an extended period, then some kind of financial support to overcome that would certainly help.
“But what we would far rather do is work with the Government to make sure we actually get fans in.”
Bradley’s view was echoed by Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, who believes the impact of continuing to play behind closed doors will extend into the Test arena.
“It doesn’t take a genius to guess that if England don’t get crowds during the autumn and the Premiership don’t start having crowds before Christmas, it’s going to be a really worrying time,” McCall said.
“That will be for the international scene and also the club level. It’s obviously very serious. Everyone needs fans in to get some revenue.”