Players wait, Rugby Aust cut 75% of staff

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle has announced drastic cost-cutting measures at headquarters.
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle has announced drastic cost-cutting measures at headquarters.

Three quarters of Rugby Australia's (RA) staff will be stood down for the next three months and the remainder retained on drastically reduced salaries as the code braces for a potential $120 million hit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

RA chief executive Raelene Castle announced what was described as "the toughest decision in the game's history" on Tuesday after meeting with Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) boss Justin Harrison.

Castle, who will take a 50 per cent pay cut, said she'll ensure staff stood down would have access to "whatever government support is available" and that talks with RUPA were ongoing to reach an "appropriate" agreement on player salary reductions.

Harrison said RUPA had been waiting three weeks to see detailed financial information he hoped would be presented in the near future to expedite the process.

About 100 of the estimated 140-strong RA workforce have been stood down from Wednesday until May 1, when they would return if Super Rugby resumes and July's Test program against Ireland and Fiji is given the green light.

Australia's Super Rugby clubs in Canberra, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne hope to lean on the government's recently-announced JobKeeper scheme or any other available benefits as they scale back their operational costs and staff levels in a similar manner.

Castle said additional help from World Rugby and individual state governments would also ensure grassroots rugby could continue once it is safe to return to the field.

"Today we have had to deliver the hardest news imaginable to our incredible, hard-working and passionate staff, that many of them will be stood down for a three-month period so that the game can survive this unprecedented crisis," she said.

"We could lose up to $120 million in revenue should it not be possible for any rugby to be played in 2020.

"Of course, that is the worst case scenario, and we are very hopeful that we can recommence the Super Rugby season and domestic Wallabies Test matches at some point this year.

"The measures we will implement from April 1, although extremely painful, are necessary to ensure the sport remains financially viable and to ensure that we are able to come out the other side of this global crisis, fully-operational and ready to throw everything into the rebuild."

The announcement comes a day after RA reported a provisional loss of $9.4 million in 2019 and hours after USA Rugby confirmed it will file for bankruptcy.

RA had last Friday announced a makeshift five-team domestic competition featuring a Western Australian outfit to fill the void when international travel ended normal Super Rugby fixtures.

That was swiftly postponed until at least May 1, with a think tank now set to be formed to assess what professional rugby may look like in Australia in the short and long-term future.

Australian Associated Press