LESS than half of the money earmarked by the SRU for its Club Hardship Fund (CHF) has so far been applied for, Sheila Begbie has revealed. The SRU’s Director of Rugby Development, Begbie has urged more clubs to apply to the CHF for help before the 30 April deadline, and has pledged to increase the fund from its initial £500,000 if necessary to ensure all clubs remain in business.
When the scheme was launched last month, clubs were told that the usual maximum for which they could apply was £5,000, with more being possible only in exceptional circumstances. But, recognising that the longer all rugby is suspended the harder it could be for some clubs to stay afloat, Begbie suggested that the maximum could be increased if necessary.
“To date we’ve had 27 clubs who have applied, to a value of circa £200,000,” Begbie explained. “The applications will close on 30th April. We would obviously love more clubs to make an application. We will sit down with all the information that’s come in, and then make a decision so that we will pay the clubs in June.
“We will do whatever it takes in terms of supporting clubs. If this [period without rugby] were to go on for a substantial period, £5,000 is not enough for clubs, so we will review it and look at what we have to do going forward. Once we get into June, end of June, we’ll look to review where we are, and what the information is that’s coming from the UK and Scottish Governments – and maybe whether or not we have an indication of when rugby will start again.
“I would say the majority are in a ballpark figure of £4000-plus,” she continued when asked for details about the applications that Murrayfield has received so far. “While we are saying it [the maximum] is £5000, in extenuating circumstances it can actually be more than that. We’ve had a number of clubs who’ve applied for more than £5000. The maximum that has been applied for at the moment has been circa £14,000.
“One of the pretexts of us looking at the Club Hardship Fund was we were quite clear that we didn’t want any of the clubs to go to the wall as the result of Covid-19. At the moment we don’t have any intel on clubs that are potentially going to go to the wall, and we hope that doesn’t happen. That’s why we’re looking to invest in clubs and support them through this period.
“The kind of support that we’re seeing clubs requesting is around retaining their staff – that’s been by far the biggest majority. Clubs are looking to both the CHF and government job-retention scheme.
“We’ve also got other clubs that are looking for support around their utilities – their gas, electricity, water and waste. And these clubs are calculating what they need to maintain their club while the clubs are closed, and speaking to their suppliers. So they’re looking for us to support them with payment of utilities.
“Some clubs are looking for ground-maintenance support. They’re looking to make sure that their pitches are maintained over the period where the clubs are closed. Some clubs have external bodies that come in and do their maintenance for them, so they’re looking for us to provide support there.”
Those clubs who rely on their sevens tournaments for a substantial slice of annual income could be particularly hard hit if the suspension of play continued into August and September. Although she implied that full compensation for such loss of income would be beyond her department’s budget, Begbie suggested that some relevant help would nonetheless be available.
“We’ve been talking to a couple of clubs who are looking to plan for August in terms of their sevens programmes, but they have a contingency plan if they’ll need to push their sevens competitions back. It is going to be a big challenge for the clubs that make a lot of revenue through sevens, and I would say that we probably wouldn’t have the budget to support every club that has a sevens tournament that might not have it in terms of generating income, but we’ll look at other ways in which we can support clubs going forward.”
Redistributing prize money
As the domestic season has been declared null and void, clubs will not automatically receive the prize money they would have got according to where they finished in which league. But Begbie insisted that the prize pot – which pays out sums ranging from £5k for winning the Premiership to £500 for finishing third in one of the regional league, with the whole fund being worth around £100k – would still be disbursed to clubs one way or another.
“We will look at that money. Absolutely, that money will not go back into the big pot, because it has been ring-fenced for the club game.
“Because the clubhouses haven’t been used, there’s a potential for something like legionnaires’ disease. Should we support all clubs at all levels who have facilities? We’re looking at different options of what we might do going forward. Maybe we need to wait and see.”
Biggar and Dalkeith, who were sure to have finished top of National One and East Division Three respectively, have appealed against the decision to declare the season null and void and hope to get the required support for a special general meeting of the SRU. However, while accepting that such a move was possible, Begbie insisted the union had respected clubs’ wishes by ruling the season null and void.
“We did go through a process. Our preference would have been to complete the season and we did have options for that, but when the impact of Covid-19 became quite apparent we recognised that it wasn’t going to be possible.
“We went through a consultation with the clubs. We had 108 out of 146 clubs engaged in the process through the conveners of various committees. Clubs were presented with different scenarios and by far the biggest percentage of people in the club game wanted the season to be null and void.
“This wasn’t a vote. It was a consultation with the clubs where we asked them what they wanted. The biggest majority of clubs have come back and told us what they wanted. We’ve gone with what the biggest majority wanted. I understand that Biggar and Dalkeith don’t agree with that and want to do something to make us reflect. If something comes in we will look at it, but at the moment we have not heard anything from either club.
“I have asked Vicky Cox, our competitions and compliance manager, to work with appropriate people within Scottish rugby to reflect and review the process we have gone through, and where we can to make improvements to that process. We will discuss the process with the clubs so that if we have to deal with something like this in future then it will be something we have discussed and agreed.
“Who knows with Covid how long it is going to be? We could be in another situation like this further down the line, so we all want to be comfortable that we have a robust process that has been agreed upon. I absolutely want the clubs to be part of the process for what this might look like in the future.”