MELBOURNE, March 17 (Reuters) - Rugby Australia (RA) faces “extreme” pressure on its finances due to the coronavirus pandemic but the game is strong enough to survive the crisis, chief executive Raelene Castle said on Tuesday.
The coronavirus outbreak has shut down sport around the world, with top competitions called off as governments ban mass gatherings and tighten border controls as part of efforts to contain the virus which has killed more than 7,000 people.
The suspension of Super Rugby over the weekend, seven rounds into the season, is a major blow for RA and partner unions in the southern hemisphere, which rely on broadcast revenues to prop up their domestic games.
Castle said a prolonged shutdown would be a major challenge for RA and that the governing body had already opened communication with the Australian government to flag concerns.
“The impact of government decisions to contain the coronavirus has seen rugby in Australia impacted in ways that we could never have imagined,” Castle told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
“We support these decisions as the health and wellbeing of Australians must come first.
“However, any ongoing restrictions will put extreme pressure on Rugby Australia’s finances.
“We are obviously not the only sport in the country facing these challenges in the current environment.”
the National Rugby League, Australia’s top flight rugby league competition, has already requested assistance from the Australian government after warning of a “catastrophic” hit to its finances.
Rival winter football code the Australian Football League has also voiced concerns about the financial impact in the leadup to the indigenous game’s season-opener this week, with fans banned from stadiums indefinitely.
Castle said RA was working with partner unions in New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina to work out how the Super Rugby season could be salvaged, perhaps with a schedule limiting international travel.
Australia’s four teams compete in a conference with Japan’s Sunwolves, while the five New Zealand sides have their own conference.
The sole Argentine team, the Jaguares, belong to the five-team South Africa conference.
“The travel restrictions mean that cross-border competition doesn’t seem realistic so domestic obviously leads the conversation,” Castle said.
“That’s all the work we’re doing and we expect we’d be able to communicate on that in the coming days.”
Castle said RA had also suspended negotiations with broadcasters for the next five-year rights deal starting in 2021 for Super Rugby and the Wallabies’ international matches.
The decision was made after feedback from broadcasters who wanted to focus on “important issues” with their own businesses, she added.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford