Rugby Australia announces $9.4 million deficit for 2019

Rugby Australia has announced a $9.6 million deficit for the 2019 year. Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Rugby Australia has three months of cash reserves to sustain the game amid the coronavirus pandemic but anything beyond that period remains unknown as the code fights to stave off insolvency.

RA on Monday announced an operating loss of $9.4 million for 2019 - a result of the fall in revenue that coincides with World Cup years and the costly legal bills of the Israel Folau saga -- but darker times appear to lie ahead as it seems unlikely that any rugby will be played before the back half of the year at the earliest.

Chief executive Raelene Castle has taken a 50 percent pay cut while other senior RA executives have had their pay reduced by 30 percent - figures that will be reviewed month on month - in a bid to avoid complete financial ruin while the governing body has already begun a process of reducing its overheads.

"The main focus has been for the next three months, making sure we understand what our possible position will be in the next three months," Castle told reporters on a conference call on Monday afternoon.

"It's important that we keep Rugby Australia, Super teams and other member unions all in a financially viable situation over the next three months, to make sure any decisions we make going forward for rugby in this country will be made with time, with the accurate financial information, and we can make any of those decisions calmly and in a considered way knowing that we've got certainties for at least the next three months."

Players from across Australia's four Super Rugby franchises find themselves with little certainty beyond that three-month period, a proposition that may have led Rugby Union Players Association boss Justin Harrison to issue a scathing press release, citing a lack of transparency, late on Sunday afternoon.

Castle acknowledged it had been a particularly difficult time for the players but disagreed that they had been left out of discussions as had been suggested Harrison and RUPA president Damian Fitzpatrick late on Sunday.

"We have been in dialogue with RUPA, I've been updating them regularly," Castle said. "I understand from their point of view there's a level of frustration that they haven't had deep engagement earlier.

"The reality is I didn't want, and Rugby Australia felt, the most important thing was to head to those conversations with a chance to give them accurate information so we could enter into a solution-based scenario for the next three months.

"They have been aware of those time lines, that will now begin on Tuesday afternoon."

RA will continue to look for savings across the business as it fights to stay afloat but there may also be some assistance from the code's international steward: World Rugby.

Where the NRL and AFL do not have access to any international assistance due to their lack of a global footprint, Castle confirmed World Rugby had already reached out to its Tier 1 cohort to understand just how dire each particular nation's individual circumstances might be.

World Rugby should be flush with cash following the successful staging of last year's World Cup in Japan.

"World Rugby have put a formal process in place where they are internally looking to analyse how much of their reserves that they could unlock as a loan facility for its Tier 1 nations, so they're doing the work at their end," Castle said.

"They've appointed a working group to manage that piece of work, they have sent us, all Tier 1 nations, a questionnaire to fill in and send back to them around our current financial situation, and when they collect that data they'll obviously have a conversation around that opportunity. But there will certainly be some level of support from World Rugby, what that level is yet we don't know."

The odds of the Rugby Championship being contested in its usual August-October window will likely lengthen the longer the pandemic wages on, while Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison already on record as saying the country should be prepared for living restrictions to last up to six months.

The tournament being played later in the year, perhaps during a reworked November Test window, might not be out of the question, while Castle believes a reimagining of the global rugby calendar could very well be on the cards for 2021.

And she is adamant a professional game would continue to exist in Australia.

"Yes there definitely will be a professional game," Castle said. "It's multifaceted, there's the conversations that will happen at a World Rugby level so we can think about, if July doesn't go ahead, which seems highly unlikely now, and the reciprocal window is available at the back end of this year.

"Whether that means Australia going north to play those games or whether there's other elements that we need to consider to look after sponsors and broadcasters to deliver content. At the back end of the year delivering Super Rugby and TRC [Rugby Championship] might be something we need to consider doing. There's those elements around the calendar from a World Rugby point-of-view.

"2021 I think there's a high probability the calendar won't look exactly like it looks at the moment. There's a lot of uncertainty around the cost of flights, how far players will want to travel and whether.

"We all hope Super Rugby will get back to where it was previously and we are scenario planning for that. But I also think in the wider game we need to be having conversations about what a new calendar could look like from an international point-of-view, a SANZAAR perspective and also a domestic perspective."