Welsh Government’s Covid sport restrictions have no end date amid warnings of ‘big trouble’ if Six Nations crowds banned | #socialmedia

Once again, Welsh rugby is facing a looming financial crisis due to the impact of Covid-19.

Most worrying of all, no-one can be sure just how bad the situation will get, amid the doomsday scenario of the Six Nations being affected.

So what do we know so far?

Well, we know that from Boxing Day all sporting events in Wales will be played behind closed doors in a bid to control the spread of the new omicron variant.

You can get all the latest developing news on the restrictions here.

On the rugby front, that will have a huge impact, with the loss of substantial revenue from a series of money-spinning festive fixtures.

If you look at the Boxing Day derby between Cardiff and the Scarlets at the Arms Park, that was set to attract a 10,000-plus capacity crowd.

You are talking around £100,000 clear profit from an event like that, in terms of ticket sales and income from food and drink.

Literally overnight, that has gone up in smoke.

Cardiff did look into the possibility of postponing the fixture until crowds are allowed back inside grounds.

However, permission was not granted by the United Rugby Championship, so the game will go ahead in an eerie fan-free atmosphere as we head back to the scenes of last season, with all-too familiar financial consequences.

There will be further heavy losses suffered by the Scarlets and the Dragons on New Year’s Day, with no spectators permitted for their local derbies against the Ospreys and Cardiff.

One presumes it will be the same story when the teams from furthest west and east meet in Llanelli on January 8.

Dragons chairman David Buttress has taken to social media to outline just how damaging the fan-ban is.

“Nobody should underestimate this,” he said.

“It is devastating for professional rugby and sport. We have done everyone to support, comply and drive/support Covid community initiatives.

“I may not be thanked for being frank, but this is horrendous news for us. This is brutal news.”

So no punches pulled there.

The semi-pro and amateur game is also facing up to a significant loss of income, with gate receipts disappearing from fixtures that would normally be some of the most lucrative of the season.

Just looking at the Premiership programme from December 27, you have the likes of Cardiff v Pontypridd, Bridgend v Aberavon, Ebbw Vale v Newport, Swansea v Llanelli and Carmarthen v Llandovery.

These would normally be guaranteed turnstile rattlers, bringing in much-needed cash.

But those turnstiles will be silent, leaving a gaping hole in the coffers.

At amateur level, there is confusion over why say 40 to 50 spectators, who are socially distanced, can’t watch games. You can read more reaction from the community clubs here.

Those people having to stay away clearly impacts on income coming into clubhouses after matches.

So just how are rugby teams at all levels supposed to cope?

Well, the Welsh Government have revealed a £3m Spectator Sports Fund will be available to support clubs and sporting venues affected by the new measures.

But there is no detail yet on how that will be divided up among the various sports and teams affected.

The understanding is clubs will have to apply for a slice of the cake, outlining just how much money they will miss out on from having to play particular fixtures behind closed doors.

But whether £3m will be enough to cover all the losses is highly debatable.

Once again, Buttress doesn’t mince his words on the subject.

“The support they’ve put in place is inadequate,” he said.

“We have not been consulted and we have to make our case.

“Imagine the pressure we are all under already. Politicians need to recognise their decisions have huge implications and they need to support them with accessible financial aid.”

Adding his thoughts, Scarlets chairman Simon Muderack said: “Bitterly disappointed. After the past few weeks, we were all looking to bring some festive derby cheer into people’s lives.

“Clearly people’s safety is paramount. However, the commercial impacts to all of us as clubs is catastrophic without significant further support.”

WalesOnline contacted Welsh Government to ask if any further support was likely to be provided.

The answer we received was: “Further detail on the £3m expected soon.”

So your guess is as good as mine.

One issue is the Welsh Government is largely dependent on the UK treasury in terms of money being made available to cushion the blow of Covid restrictions.

With Westminster not imposing the same limits on sporting attendances, it remains to be seen just how much funding the Welsh Government will be able to come up with in total to compensate teams in this country.

We also asked them how long the ban on fans will be in place.

To this, Welsh Government replied: “We hope crowds will come back as soon as possible. The coronavirus regulations/restrictions, including playing sports behind closed doors, continue to be reviewed regularly by cabinet.”

So, once again, it’s how long is a piece of string.

Clearly, public health has to be the priority with the numbers of Covid cases spiralling and the potential impact in terms of hospitalisations and the staffing of key services, with so many people being off sick.

But consideration does also have to be given to how our sports teams are going to survive this latest financial blow and whether more help is required to keep them afloat.

The four regions have already been shackled with having to repay the £20m bank loan the WRU took out last year to cover the shortfall in income from the first Covid shutdown.

The Six Nations

The big worry is what the impact will be if the fan ban continues through until Six Nations time.

Wales’ first home game is against Scotland on February 12, with France and Italy also on their way to Cardiff.

International rugby is the big money-spinner. It’s the financial engine that keeps the domestic game going in terms of income.

Last season, having to play the Six Nations matches against England and Ireland behind closed doors at the Principality Stadium cost Welsh rugby some £13.5m.

Louis Rees-Zammit touches down for Wales against Ireland at the Principality Stadium earlier this year against a backdrop of empty seats

So you can imagine how much you would be talking in terms of the revenue from three home Championship games.

One has to hope it doesn’t come to that, but it is clearly a concern with no definite end date for the supporter suspension.

As one leading official from the pro game said to me: “If this impacts the Six Nations, we are in big trouble.”

One other issue which has provoked much debate is how can the Welsh Government justify banning crowds at outdoor sporting events, while still allowing people to cram into pubs to watch sport indoors on TV?

We put that very question to them.

The response we received was: “Ministers are meeting to discuss post-Christmas hospitality restrictions. The situation with regard to omicron and regulations is being kept under close review.”

So the clear message there is watch this space, especially with the UK treasury having now announced £1bn in financial support for businesses in the hospitality and leisure industries.

As for Welsh rugby, well, we are back in uncertain and precarious times.

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