Rugby Canada OK for now but says financial help will likely be needed this year

Rugby Canada has no immediate plans to apply for help from World Rugby's COVID-19 relief fund but says it will likely need assistance later this year.

World Rugby has established a pool of some US$100 million to assist member unions through to the resumption of the sport.

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Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen says the World Rugby relief program is a phased approach with some funds available for the period up to the end of May with other resources held in reserve for the months after.

Like other unions, the Canadian governing body has provided World Rugby with information on its cash flow and any government subsidy programs being utilized.

"That modelling right now shows that between the middle of March to the end of May, from an immediate cash-flow basis, Rugby Canada doesn't need to avail (itself) of any of those emergency funds," said Vansen.

"Our modelling does show that we will need some support in some fashion beyond that, depending on what unfolds from the domestic or international calendar perspective."

Rugby Canada anticipates a decline of $4 million to $6 million in gross revenue this year, although that will be accompanied by a reduction in expenses given the pandemic has forced events to be called off.

In 2017, the most recent figures available, Rugby Canada had $16.2 million in revenue.

The suspension of play means Rugby Canada is not taking in its portion of registration dues from about 80 per cent of its some 30,000 participants in the country. The other 20 per cent comes from B.C. which operates on a different season schedule.

Missing out on the women's Langford Sevens in May and men's internationals also reduces revenue.

A July 4 men's match against the French Barbarians in Montreal has already been cancelled. A July 11 date with Italy in Halifax remains on the books, but will likely also be called off.

"Those are conversations that are ongoing with World Rugby," said Vansen.

The Canadian men also have Americas Rugby Championship matches slated for August and September.

Rugby Canada has not had to lay off any of its 40-odd full-time employees, thanks to the federal government's emergency wage subsidy program. But employees have take pay cuts of 10 to 15 per cent through June 5 to ease the organization's financial pressures.

While Rugby Canada's carded athletes continue to receive their monthly stipends, Vansen says the organization will have to review whether the additional living support allowances that some of the men's and women's sevens players get will continue past April.

That will be part of discussions with the players, whose athlete agreements with Rugby Canada have either expired or will expire this summer.

Adding to the difficulties are the ever-shifting sands thanks to the global pandemic.

"It's a real challenge," said Vansen. "And we're not alone in that. But it's part of an ongoing evolution that we certainly want to have with our athletes — and we've talked quite openly to the athletes about increasing the amount of information and the understanding of the business of Rugby Canada."

And as a business that stages events, Vansen said Rugby Canada will have to be "adaptable and nimble" to react to what may happen down the line in terms of sports attendance in the COVID-19 world.

Rugby Canada's offices in both Langford, B.C., and Vancouver are closed. Staff have worked remotely since March 12.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2020.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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