Irish rugby needs to use this shutdown as a chance to revamp the club game

Irish rugby needs to use this shutdown as a chance to revamp the club game
#10 Billy Pope, Sunday's Well is stopped by Enniscorthy, in an AIL rugby game in February. Picture: Larry Cummins

DONALD Trump maybe frowned upon as a blundering and idealistic buffoon however, I don’t know too many buffoons that can rightfully call themselves the most powerful man in the world.

Let there be little doubt about it that the tangerine faced president certainly lacks the cultivated tongue and scholarly slickness that Barack Obama brought to the steps of the Oval Office. Yet when he recently proclaimed that the Coronavirus was a “blip and not a catastrophe” was he correct? Or was it just another one of these ill-advised statements that he vomits out every now and then?

While one death is always too many, I guess the disasters Trump is comparing this pandemic to are the 22 million killed during WW1, the six million that perished during the Holocaust or the mind boggling 75m that lost their lives during WW2.

Personally, I think this virus is the planet’s cruel method of self-regulation. Whatever it is, we all need it to disappear just as quickly as it manifested.

The loss of human life during this surreal period will always be the biggest cost to all of us. While these souls must never be forgotten we must now start preparing for the after.

We are officially in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The world that we once lived in is now gone and the sports we all loved to watch and participate in will take years to regenerate the momentum they had a very short time ago.

Musgrave Park won't be hosting any Munster or Dolphin rugby activity during the Covid 19 outbreak. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Musgrave Park won't be hosting any Munster or Dolphin rugby activity during the Covid 19 outbreak. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Sport is down the pecking order of things that need fixing but as a financial contributor to the world’s economy it is imperative that clubs start swinging, balls return to having the leather kicked off them and rugby players start smashing into each other as soon as the ecosystem they operate in is deemed safe to do so.

The IRFU has always run a tight and clever ship when it comes to looking after its finances, but such was the speed and escalation of this pandemic they were caught off guard. The ramifications will now be felt by the smallest of clubs right up to the pinnacle of the game.

If rugby can’t return before the year is out, the November tests against Australia, South Africa and Japan are gone. A huge blow to the balance sheet.

Having already lost the revenue that was to be generated by playing Italy and France in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, it now seems certain the Autumn money-spinners will also have a line drawn through them. Even if they were to be played behind closed doors the IRFU would still lose out on the gate receipts.

There were hopes of the postponed Italian Six Nations game being rescheduled for later in the year, but such are the logistics involved and the importance of making sure the virus doesn’t return, that seems a very ambitious plan.

On top of this you must also factor in the financial losses inflicted on the provinces. While you would think it is the IRFU who fund all professional rugby on this island, that is not the case.

Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Leinster are be the biggest losers here as they had already sold a vast amount of tickets for their home Champions Cup quarter-final in the Aviva against Saracens. They also had the home quarter-final of the Guinness Pro14 to look forward to.

There are not many who would have bet against them winning both competitions outright, which they would have received win bonuses for.

Munster on the other hand might have lost out on a home Guinness Pro14 semi-final depending on how the final few league games had gone. Yet it is unquestionably the losses incurred by the national team that will hit the IRFU the hardest.

Like the majority of us, the pro players have also taken a pay cut of between 10% and 50% based on an equitable sliding scale which was effective from April and will remain in place as long as required.

On the amateur side of the fence the clubs who had already been struggling for many years now will find it very hard to find sponsors for next season, whenever that is going to be.

If there is to be some kind of silver lining to come out of this situation for the amateur game, it may be that the IRFU might re-think how they run the AIL. They have spoken about it for years but now is the time to act.

In my opinion there is little point in having a side like Midleton or Sunday’s Well travel to Bangor on a Friday afternoon, play on Saturday and travel back immediately after the game. That involves a round trip of 900km, players having to get a half day from work and for the clubs to pay for a bus, food and hotel accommodation. That kind of expense is simply not sustainable any longer.

For now, the most important thing is that we as a nation are smart in how we conduct our everyday tasks, look after our health and trust in the experts who are guiding us.

This situation will pass, but we must not be stupid because if it returns again, the numbers we shake our heads at each day will seem miniscule to what we could be facing.

Stay safe and don’t be stupid.

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