World Rugby chief says Covid-19 impact on the game’s finances is ‘devastatating’

By Duncan Bech, PA
·3-min read

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper admits the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a “devastating” impact on the game’s finances.

The sport’s global governing body is distributing funds from a central £77million relief fund, the majority of it being given to stricken tier one nations.

World Rugby has reduced costs over a four-year period by 10 per cent to £540million and has benefited from staging the 2019 World Cup in Japan shortly before Covid-19 struck, while France 2023 is still three years away.

Although optimistic that rugby’s main revenue generator will avoid any repercussions from the pandemic, Gosper admits the current outlook is bleak.

“It’s been devastating from a revenue point of view. The more reliant you are on ticketing and hospitality revenue, the more devastating it is,” Gosper said.

“Hopefully we’ll be getting some good broadcast revenues, but the rest of the picture is pretty weak.

“We’re operating a little bit like a central bank, advancing monies to unions to see them through this period from a cashflow point of view.

“It’s the highest revenue unions that are most in trouble and they’re under huge pressure.

“The majority of the money goes to the top 10 unions because they generate a lot of the money for other unions. It’s important that we help them be cash-viable for as long as possible.

“Hopefully we can see this through if things get back to normality – whatever that is – halfway through next year.”

Gosper insists some good has emerged from the crisis as discussions over the structure of a new global calendar continue.

Rugby Union – England 2015 Rugby Union World Cup Venue Announcement – Twickenham Stadium
Brett Gosper has painted a bleak financial picture (Adam Davy/PA)

“If the pandemic has served something, it’s been constructive in focusing people’s minds to see if we’re looking at the right model,” Gosper said.

“It’s unlikely you’d get calendar change, if that was recommended, before 2024. And if there was window change, it’s unlikely that would happen before 2024.

“There are some alternatives on the table. A number of competition models being run through separate or combined windows.

“We’re in the kitchen still and can’t predict where this will end up. But the willingness to get together and collaborate has been refreshing.”

Gosper describes World Rugby’s drive to continue the development of Japan into a major force in the wake of their successful 2019 World Cup as an “obsession” and is hoping for a strong bid from the USA for either the 2027 or 2031 events to maintain growth into emerging markets.

A year to the day after South Africa triumphed in the Yokohama showpiece, a report published by the game’s overlords called ‘Global Reach of Rugby 2019’ reveals strong growth in both established and emerging rugby nations.

Apart from an 11 per cent increase in rugby followers for 2019 to 877million, there has been a 29 per cent surge in female fans to 140million.