Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA
Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA

Sydney — Three-quarters of Rugby Australia’s staff were laid off on Tuesday until July 1 as the governing body predicted huge financial losses from the sport’s coronavirus-enforced shutdown.

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle described the cuts as “the toughest decision in the game’s history” but said they were necessary to help it survive.

“Although extremely painful, [they] are necessary to ensure the sport remains financially viable and to ensure we are able to come out the other side of this global crisis, fully operational and ready to throw everything into the rebuild,” she said.

Castle, who will take a 50% cut to her $500,000-plus salary, said the sport has been hit hard by the suspension of the Super Rugby season after just seven rounds. Other executives and remaining staff have been offered salary reductions of up to 30% and reduced working hours.

Castle said a worst-case scenario, in which the entire season is lost along with Wallabies Tests against Ireland and Fiji, would cost the governing body $74m in revenue. Rugby Australia, she added, was in discussions with the Australian government and World Rugby about potential financial support.

Rugby has ground to a halt in Australia and elsewhere around the world, depriving clubs of much-needed ticket sales and broadcast money. Rugby Australia on Monday posted a near $6m deficit, worsened by a hefty payment to former Wallaby Israel Folau after his sacking over homophobic social media posts.

Castle said talks were under way with the Rugby Union Players Association over a deal on player payments which will reportedly involve cuts of 30% to 50%.