IRFU Outline Difficult Road Ahead at Council Meeting

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The Annual Council Meeting of the Irish Football Rugby Union has been advised that the IRFU is still at significant financial risk due to the persisting impact of COVID 19

This is despite ongoing work across the professional and domestic game to ensure the continuing safe participation in rugby.

Patrick Kennedy, Honorary Treasurer, told delegates at the online meeting that despite many positive developments such as the ongoing vaccination rollout, successful pilot test events and the gradual relaxation of government restrictions, that rugby is “far from out of the woods”.

Kennedy outlined that without the assistance and commitment of government, sponsors, broadcasters, and patrons the IRFU would not have survived as it has, and that continued support remains vital.

The IRFU’s financial year end would move permanently to 31th July, to ensure alignment with the new global season. Kennedy confirmed that a full financial update will be issued from the Union in November.

At the meeting it was confirmed that current President, Des Kavanagh, Senior Vice President, John Robinson and Junior Vice President, Greg Barrett, will remain in their respective roles for the forthcoming season.

On the day that Munster’s Fiona Steed and Connacht’s Yvonne Comer were appointed to the Union Committee, delegates were reminded that, from 2023 a minimum of one in four nominees to the IRFU Committee from each Province must be female.

Speaking of the challenging environment Philip Browne, CEO, told irishrugby.ie:

“Irish Rugby is continuing to grapple with the most significant financial crisis in our history and we are expecting to report another year of losses in 2021, when our audited accounts are released later this year.”

Why are the IRFU losing money?

The key issue remains the absence of fans at provincial grounds and the Aviva Stadium. The IRFU continues to address this particularly through its active participation in the cross-sport working party on return of fans to stadiums.

“We have made encouraging progress in recent weeks with the return of increasing numbers of supporters to various sporting and cultural events, which leaves us hopeful that fans may return in meaningful numbers to our grounds in Autumn.

“As the only sporting organisation fully supporting a professional game, we are dependent on the national and provincial teams’ ability to generate revenues which have been decimated by the impact of COVID restrictions since March 2020.” Browne added.

Looking back at his most challenging season at the helm of Irish Rugby, Browne said that the IRFU had to implement a 10% permanent cost base reduction, approved by the Union in March of this year and with that came some difficult decisions.

“As in many industries, regrettably we have had job losses and pay cuts across the organisation for the last 12 months while we also eliminated all non-critical overheads.” Browne added.

Further government funding needed

Browne also outlined that the IRFU will be making a submission for further government funding in 2021 if possible.

The meeting heard that the bulk of the 2021 losses are already realised as the 2020/21 season has now concluded. The IRFU, alone, has suffered a 47% reduction in turnover for the six months to the end of June 2021, compared to the first half of 2019.

Browne explained: “Our two largest income-generating home games every two years against England and France were held behind closed doors with a loss of match income of over €16m. These are the games that keep Irish Rugby going.”

“Without additional government funding in 2021, and a return of fans to our stadia in meaningful numbers later this year, the IRFU would once again have to review all activities and swiftly implement another round of very unpalatable cost reductions. Further cuts, if necessary, would have a significant impact on the organisation and all activities from grassroots to pro game pathways.”

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