Austin Healey has urged the Government to write off the debts owed by English clubs in the wake of the pandemic on the grounds that they perform important roles in their communities.
The Gallagher Premiership launches when Bristol host Bath on Friday night but the new season is clouded in gloom before it has even started due to the financial crisis at administration-threatened Worcester.
The Warriors owe in excess of £25million, while Wasps head a group of additional clubs who occupy precarious positions.
Premiership teams secured £147m in loans from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) to help with the financial fallout of Covid but these are having to be repaid over 10 years.
Former England star Healey believes it will take Government assistance to improve rugby’s outlook.
“Yes, off the field clubs have got financial difficulties, but you look around the country because of the pandemic, most businesses are in exactly the same place,” BT pundit Healey told the PA news agency.
“Stock markets are off, credit markets are screwed, you can’t get debt anywhere – and there’s a lot of debt everywhere – but all that is a by-product of two years of Covid.
“Rugby was already a finely balanced industry and an immature industry before Covid – it already had a lot of debt – and Covid really hit it.
“It will bounce back. It’s got some great owners, some brilliant clubs, wonderful fans, and it just needs to steady the ship and see its way through – probably with some help from the Government to be honest.
“The clubs have had debt provided by the Government but they’ve got to pay debt back. There’s been a lot of writing off of loans in various other industries.
“In a time when we’re seeing energy companies making bumper profits, maybe DCMS will do something to help the clubs across the board because of the feelgood factor that ruby gives to communities and the amount they put back into communities.
“You can’t just help the ones that are in financial difficulty because it’d be unfair for them to just help one and not help the other 12.”
Despite the struggle to stay afloat afflicting some clubs, Healey insists the Premiership should take comfort in knowing the quality of rugby on the pitch has never been higher.
“If someone is considering joining their club to play or watching their local club, they should definitely do it,” he said.
“I’ve commentating for 14 years and there have been some really boring years. Dire games like a 6-3 Sale against Leeds. Or some terrible, dull, kick-fest.
“But last season there were very few games that were boring, if any. You’ve got more entertainment now than you’ve ever had.
“The thing the Premiership massively has in its favour is that the product is amazing. More often than not the matches are great spectacles.”
:: BT Sport is the home of Gallagher Premiership Rugby. The new season kicks off with Bristol v Bath at 7pm on BT Sport 1 on Friday September 9 – www.bt.com/sport/rugby-union