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Ulster Rugby chief Jonny Petrie explains decision to furlough all players



Testing times: Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Jonny Petrie at Kingspan

Testing times: Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Jonny Petrie at Kingspan

Testing times: Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Jonny Petrie at Kingspan

It was never something Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Jonny Petrie had imagined would feature in his in-tray but such is the way these days during such trying times.

With the coronavirus cutting a grim swathe through all normal life and no matches for Ulster since February, along with no clarity as to what could happen to potentially finish this campaign, as well as the anticipated revenue taking a massive hit, the province have pragmatically moved to furlough the majority of their players and back-room staff.

Petrie estimates that 70% of those working at the Kingspan - about 183 staff - have now been furloughed and are on the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Protecting their assets for the hoped for return to playing is naturally at the core of Ulster's decision with their salary deferral plan having been in place since the start of the month and now the Job Retention Scheme also being implemented.

Getting through this crisis in as secure a way as possible is the obvious intended outcome and, as Petrie stresses, Ulster are no different from any other business in that regard.

"We've worked through with the IRFU what our financial plans are and everyone is in the same boat, the longer this situation goes on the more challenging it becomes. We can't get away from that," said Petrie.

"It is a really challenging time and we need to find ways to manage our costs as well as we can and allow us to get through this period. We're doing that in conjunction with all the relevant stakeholders.

"It was important in the first place that we undertook the (salary) deferrals and looked at our own finances to be able to ride through this," said Petrie.

"But it's also important that we take advantage of the VAT holidays, of rates reliefs and all available schemes to help us do that.

"We've got a lot of our costs and expenditure to take care of as certainly only a fraction of our revenue is coming in the door so from that perspective we thought it was appropriate, as thousands of other businesses are doing, to look at ways in which we can make applications to relevant Government schemes in reasonably difficult times.

"The first thing we looked to do, and in conjunction with the IRFU, was a programme of salary deferrals to look at how we could manage our cash-flow position.

"That was everybody across the organisation, not just players, as staff were included in that salary deferral scheme some time ago.

"But on top of that when the Job Retention Scheme was available then it was only right and appropriate for us to look at how we can make use of that through this period."

There are currently only around six or seven of the staff who work with the squad still operating - including head coach Dan McFarland, strength and conditioning coaches and some medical staff - as they remotely oversee the players who are individually training but all away from the Kingspan.

And just to re-emphasise the situation, in particular regarding Ulster's centrally IRFU contracted players he added: "It's the entirety of the playing group that is in furlough, there are no exceptions to that."

Going forward, the former Scotland international can hardly provide much enlightenment as to what might happen regarding either a return to playing, potentially before the autumn, or as to whether large crowds of supporters will be able to attend the Kingspan without some form of limit being put on those who can come through the gates.

"That will become clear over the course of the next few weeks and month as to what is likely to happen here, the viability of playing out the rest of the season and indeed what the following season looks like," Petrie said.

"There's a bit to go before we fully understand what the next few months look like for us and that return to play, in whatever guise that might be, looks like."

And as for welcoming back the fans he stated: "We are working on a range of scenarios about capacities and how you manage a stadium. But we don't have any specific guidance around that at this stage."

Normality, or something which resembles it, will have to wait a bit yet.

Belfast Telegraph