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IRFU losses due to Covid expected to exceed €30 million this year

The Oireachtas Covid-19 committee will hear concerns from sports organisations today about their financial viability.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE IRISH RUGBY Football Union (IRFU) is expecting losses in 2020 exceeding €30 million as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Irish sports organisations will today tell the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee that the pandemic restrictions have had a ‘catastrophic’ impact on their financial viability.

Philip Browne, CEO of the IRFU, will tell committee members that the season and associated business operations were “thrown into chaos” in March when the Ireland v Italy Six Nations fixtures became the first mass gatherings to be cancelled.

“Pre -Covid our financial situation was looking quite positive. Now we are facing an unprecedented cashflow crisis, as we try to work towards the objectives of protecting our National Men, Women’s and provincial teams, ensuring that we preserve the amateur clud game and support the jobs of our 500 employees to the extent that we can.”

The key issue, according to the IRFU is the absence of spectators at major fixtures. And the lack of a clear pathway to the return of spectators in meaningful numbers means the “perilous financial situation will continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate into 2021, moving to an unsustainable position by third quarter of that year”.

Under the governments five-level plan, published this week, even under Level 1 just 500 spectators would be able to attend outdoor stadia with a minimum accredited capacity of 5,000. The plan notes that specific guidance will be developed for large purpose-built event facilities for large national and international sporting events, but no further detail on expected spectator numbers has been given.

Browne will tell the committee that it is anticipated that the IRFU will “continue to burn at least €5 million a month”, primarily on professional game wages and costs.

Committee members will also hear from GAA President Seán Ó hOráin that there will be “a €50 million hole” in the association’s finances in 2020 alone. The GAA is estimating further losses of at least €20 million in 2021.

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Interim CEO of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) is also due to address the committee today, warning that League of Ireland clubs “cannot survive without fans attending games”.

“They almost entirely depend financially on supporters attending games and we are now entering really dangerous territory for them if the current ban on large spectator attendances continues much longer,” he will tell the committee.

“I know these loyal fans would sign up to any spectator code of conduct to attend matches and keep their clubs alive.”

The various sports associations have been working on a plan to allow for the safe return of fans to stadia and will present this to the government through the expert medical group.

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