NRL bosses' 'irresponsible' act in $450 million virus crisis

·5-min read

Rugby League bosses have been accused of being irresponsible as the game stares down the barrel of a potential financial crisis due to coronavirus.

The NRL has vowed to continue its season - albeit behind closed doors from round two - despite other competitions being suspended around the world.

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NRL CEO Todd Greenberg says a raft of measures have been discussed in response to the virus threat, including playing a 15-team competition without the Warriors if the New Zealand side decides to head home after its round two clash.

Greenberg and ARLC chairman Peter V'landys have defended the plan to press on with the season, suggesting the game wouldn't be able to survive financially if it were to be suspended for an extended period.

V'landys said the NRL would not take long to collapse if the season was suspended without financial assistance from the government.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already stated that the NRL is not high on the list in terms of priority for government funding.

The NRL has come under heavy criticism for not having a more substantial emergency relief fund set up for such a crisis as the game is now facing.

Foundation ARL Commission member Gary Pemberton made the suggestion in 2012 that $50 million should have been banked in a future fund, meaning the game would have close to $450 million in its coffers to help come through the current coronavirus crisis.

Speaking on Fox League’s NRL 360, V’landys admitted the league only had between $70 and 80 million.

“I can’t comment on the past, I can only comment on while I’ve been on the commission and we’ve been looking at a Future’s Fund and that’s why we have $70-80 million that has been banked up,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this has been an unforeseen crisis. No one saw the consequences of this virus and the potential financial impact this has on the game. Gary Pemberton was 100 per cent correct, we should have been putting $50 million aside, we should have a futures fund and I can assure you that running into the future we will certainly have a futures fund going forward.”

Phil Gould has been among the many critics to voice his concerns, taking aim at league chiefs for not having a better contingency plan in place.

Journalist Jimmy Smith accused rugby league bosses of using the fund to help prop up struggling clubs, calling it "irresponsible" when faced with the current situation.

Speaking on Fox Sports’ NRL Tonight, fellow journalist Brent Read echoed the sentiment but said it wasn't just league bosses that were to blame.

“I think everyone’s got to take a bit of blame because the NRL in the past should have put more money aside but at the same time, the clubs have been demanding money from the NRL to make ends meet so the NRL has probably caved in to them,” Read said.

“I don’t think you can sit there and say it’s the NRL’s fault, everyone’s got to take ownership of it because everyone’s constantly whinged they’re not getting enough money and that puts pressure on the NRL to hand over cash that maybe they should have been putting in the bank.”

Salary cap could be lowered in response to crisis

There have been suggestions the NRL could lower the competition's salary cap, effectively cutting the wage of players as part of the collective bargaining agreement with the Rugby League Players Association.

The NRL has asked for special consideration and availability of testing for players to keep the season alive.

They will also rely on a report from newly appointed biosecurity and pandemic specialists to decide how to navigate the complex situation of playing games in round two and beyond.

The NRL admitted all options are on the table, including isolating players and staff and suspending the season entirely.

“If it's a total closure, we haven't got long at all,” V'landys said.

“If it's one where we can continue to play the game with no spectators, that gives us a much greater flexibility to survive.

“It really depends on what we're faced with. If one player or ball boy catches the disease and we have to suspend the season, that's another scenario.

“I spent hours yesterday looking at all our accounts and all I could see was the word 'catastrophe' if this continues.”

While refusing to reveal specific contract details of its $2 billion deal with broadcasters, V'landys said Fox Sports and Channel Nine have not put pressure on the NRL to continue playing.

However, he admitted the broadcasters will not need to pay if games are cancelled.

“I can't stress enough our game has never faced a challenge like this,” V'landys said.

“The longer it takes, the more pressure on our financial viability.

“It could have catastrophic effects on us going forward.

“Our money will only last so long and once its extinguished we are in big trouble.”

With agencies