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Did Irish government jump the gun over Six Nations postponement as coronavirus will hit Irish Rugby pockets?

Neil Francis


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Empty feeling: the Aviva Stadium will be closed this Saturday

Empty feeling: the Aviva Stadium will be closed this Saturday

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

France’s game with England is cancelled during the World Cup

France’s game with England is cancelled during the World Cup

Empty feeling: the Aviva Stadium will be closed this Saturday

On the way to pick up my press accreditation for the Wales game last month, I chanced upon a dozen Basques roaming around the main Lansdowne Road junction. France were playing Italy in Rome on the Sunday - why were they in Dublin?

"Le craic!"

A game with a little bit of bite, two Celtic teams going at each other, some real atmosphere (ahem) at the Aviva and then a shed load of beers with the natives afterwards. They needed four tickets to add to the eight they already had - maybe the IRFU or Ticketmaster had a few Row Z singles still floating around.

When I got out of the IRFU offices they had gone, but there were five Italian men walking by. A left onto Shelbourne Road and a German couple decked out in rugby paraphernalia were handing their tickets to the guys at the turnstile.

Dublin gives up a lot to Paris, London and Rome, but as a sports or blow-out destination, we are in a league of our own. People come here from all over Europe for whatever reason.

Of course, most of the 5,000 Italians who had tickets for this weekend's postponed match will still travel to Dublin from today on. And if you know your Italian rugby - the Italian game's heartland is in the north of the country where the coronavirus has taken hold. There is a good chance that several of them could have the coronavirus. That 5,000, though, is more or less the same amount of Irish people who came back from skiing in the Italian Alps over the last few weeks.

Did the government jump the gun a bit? All other games are still going ahead, including the France-Ireland game. The French government's stipulation of a ban on 5,000 people in a confined space was peculiar. A full soccer programme went ahead and Ireland will, it seems, play there next Saturday week.

I think that the general population realise that the response to the coronavirus has been disproportionate to the risks involved. In a bad year, there could be as many as 650,000 who die worldwide from flu.

This current situation is unprecedented due to the speed and the rise in infection, particularly in China.

I, like many people in this country, have no real fear of catching the virus, much less dying from it, but I do however have loved ones and people connected to me who would be vulnerable and at risk. On that basis, I accept the over-reaction and if that is what is required to stop it, well then so be it.

The reasoning behind the strict measures are obvious. The human toll is prime amongst all. The health services of every country could be thrown into the abyss if the situation escalates. Then there is industry, commerce and trade - nobody escapes here.

The IRFU stated that they were "perfectly happy" to comply with government advice and postpone the Ireland-Italy game this Saturday. If they had said "happy" to comply, that would have conveyed the message. "Perfectly happy" and you get a sense of gritted teeth.

Even though there is a lot going on this year, the €20m cost to the Dublin economy due to the postponement is a big hit, and even waiting until September might not fully recoup expenditure already paid out.

Despite the lowly nature of the Italian team, the match was a 51,700 sell-out. Work the figures on an average of €100 per ticket and the gate stands at €5m. Anyone suggesting that you play the match behind closed doors obviously comes from the Sinn Fein school of mathematics.

Handing back €5m in gate receipts is bad for business. Being unable to fulfil your broadcasting obligations is bad for business. Having to forego all the corporate hospitality and beer sales on site is bad for business.

The IRFU posted net income of €87.5m for their June 2019 accounts. Taking out exceptional items, the Union posted a surplus of €3.2m. It is hard to know what the IRFU will do with the gate receipts. How much will they refund to patrons? The hope is that the game will be played in September but, you can be guaranteed, the match will be played.

The IRFU could lose up to €5m if the match is played in September - twice that figure if it is not played at all. If the Union only posted a trading surplus of €3.2m last year and the Italy game is proposed for September, it would leave them running a significant loss for year end June 2020.

Let's look a little deeper at the Six Nations and the financial rewards. When South Africa won the last World Cup, they picked up the princely sum of £325,000 - what Paul Pogba earns every four days. It's the honour and the glory though - isn't it?

If you play in the Six Nations the dough is significant. The prize money goes sixth place - €1m, fifth - €1.5m, fourth - €2m, third - €2.5m, second - €3.5m and first - €5m, and it's €6m if you win the Grand Slam. There is nothing for winning the Triple Crown, which probably explains the non-performance in Twickenham.

Each side in the Six Nations, when the entire revenue pot is thrown together get €15.6m. No wonder the Saffers with the connivance of CVC are keen to join the Six Nations!

Anybody who thinks that the Ireland-Italy game should be played behind closed doors or given a 0-0 draw doesn't really understand what drives the game.

When Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan in the middle of the Rugby World Cup last year, three games were cancelled - Namibia -Canada, Italy-New Zealand and England-France. The latter two were huge draws and the fall-out could have been significant. In the end, 0-0 draws were awarded. It didn't suit anyone, but there was no choice.

World Rugby had been prudent and took out a cancellation insurance policy. The premium was two per cent of the gross receipt of £250m. It was the best £5m the organisation had ever spent. In a land of typhoons, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves and nuclear reactor meltdowns, somebody had to protect their interests and the tournament.

The hosts had taken out a £7.5m (three per cent) policy on the tournament as well. London wasn't covered in 2015 but New Zealand was in 2011 for one per cent and they collected when there a massive earthquake hit Christchurch six months before the event.

The sponsors and broadcasters were compensated and an equitable reduction was put in place.

The IRFU do not have a cancellation policy in place due to the prohibitive costs and the low possibility of Force Majeure or Acts of God. The Six Nations organisers do but it is a long way from full cover and, in most instances, they will only be able to claim when the government of one of the member unions decides to take strong measures.

I think the IRFU will get a degree of compensation, but that could fall a long way short. The rest of the matches in the Six Nations, I have a feeling, will take place come hell or high water.

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