Hull FC owner Adam Pearson says rugby league clubs will “start to die” without specific Government help in the battle against Covid-19, predicting an “Armageddon” for the sport.
As the pandemic continues to grip sport and with warnings of a grim six months ahead, clubs in the 13-a-side code – which is not played professionally in winter – have serious concerns.
“We definitely need more support,” Pearson told the Daily Politics. “When the Government came out and said that six months was the new time limit, it’s obviously caused us huge problems.
“People won’t buy season tickets in December 2020 for the 2021 season, so there’ll be no money coming in to the rugby clubs, it’s completely stopped that. We’re not football, we’re not rugby union, we’re in the heartlands and we need some specific help to help us through this.”
League received a £16m Government loan in May to deal with a disrupted season, with games behind closed doors and the fixture list decimated by positive coronavirus tests.
“To be fair to the Government, they’ve helped us already with a specific Government loan, but I would say March 2021, without further help, would be an Armageddon for rugby clubs,” Pearson added.
“That (the previous loan) helps us with staff to some degree, but we’re looking for an exemption of VAT on tickets and further specific loans over a longer period of time.
“The message from a lot of rugby clubs now is, because of the six months, a lot of good work has been undone and we’re under serious threat now for the spring of 2021. Unless we get some specific sector sport help for rugby league, clubs will start to die.”
Pearson’s words came after chancellor Rishi Sunak laid out his plans to further help the economy during the pandemic, and struck a slightly different tone to those of Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick.
While also severely concerned and describing the decision to scrap pilot crowds in Super League as a “hammer blow”, Fitzpatrick said he remained confident the game could see out the crisis caused by coronavirus.
Fitzpatrick’s club have already staged five matches behind closed doors at the Halliwell Jones Stadium – it is also the venue for this week’s round-13 fixtures – and were gearing up for the return of fans, initially restricted to 1,000.
However, that all changed after the Government announced a tightening of restrictions to combat a rise in infections and Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer has hinted that both major finals this season may now be played without crowds.
“It was a hammer blow,” Fitzpatrick said. “We were all geared up ready to welcome crowds back.
“I got asked when we need fans back and my response was we needed them weeks ago. We’re in such a precarious position and now it’s looking like we may have finals without crowds.
“I will say the situation is so dynamic and so fluid, it could change. When we got the announcement that we could have the pilot crowds on the 30th of September I was very pleasantly surprised, I didn’t see that coming.
“The RFL did a tremendous job again in getting that over the line. So there is a glimmer of hope that it does swing in our favour.
“However, it would be very naive to start planning for that and hope is not a strategy so we need to plan and budget accordingly.
“It’s so disappointing because the support we’ve had from our supporters and our partners has been absolutely tremendous. We’ve had over two-thirds not ask for any sort of refund on the season tickets, so we wanted to get a game on in front of them to pay them back, to say thank you.”
Warrington are one of the wealthiest outfits in Super League, thanks to the generosity of their co-owners, Stuart Middleton, a card-factory owner, and concert promoter Simon Moran, who may have to plough more money into the club despite the financial crisis hitting their own businesses.
“Potentially that may happen,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’ve already committed a seven-figure sum and we need to understand their businesses have been hit big time as well.
“But they’re still standing by the club and we’re very fortunate at Warrington that we have them on our board. I dread to think what we’d be doing without them.
“We’re worried, absolutely, but we’re confident we can come through it.
“The sport is littered with resilient people, we’re in a very difficult position but we will come through it whatever it takes, I think that’s the mentality we’re seeing right across the sport, particularly from the players.”