Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown much of the attention has been on rugby union’s professional game. Whether that’s been global calendars, the restart of competitions or the finances of individual clubs, the focus has not been on the community game.
I’ve been guilty of that too, as news of Cardiff Blues’ financial hole of £4-6m has dominated most of the headlines, while the resumption of the Guinness Pro14 in August and the relevant arrangements made to facilitate that have also taken up word counts.
However, in the background there has been a mention of Cardiff RFC that went somewhat under the radar.
Part of the notes from the meeting between the CF10 Arms Park Rugby Trust and Cardiff Blues at the end of May, published at the start of June, regarded the future of Cardiff Arms Park. It is the saga which may never end.
It was confirmed that negotiations between Cardiff Blues and Cardiff Athletic Club are still ongoing, with redevelopment still very much on the agenda and the preference from Cardiff Blues’ side being an interim two-year extension to the lease to facilitate that, but that the ground requires considerable immediate investment due to the level of dilapidation.
The most interesting comment though was that “discussions continue about who has responsibility for the management of the RFC”. It’s an issue that has been bounced around behind the scenes for some time, but with the COVID-19 pandemic it has come to the fore and raises a serious question over the future of Cardiff RFC.
Does Cardiff Blues Ltd have the financial strength to keep running Cardiff RFC alongside Cardiff Blues? If yes, in what form will that be? And if no then what happens to the Blue and Blacks?
Or perhaps Cardiff Athletic Club are attempting to take control of Cardiff RFC, and if so how are they planning to fund it?
If Cardiff RFC does continue to be one of the two teams operated by Cardiff Blues Ltd, alongside Cardiff Blues, then there is a query over what the squad would look like in the 2020/21 season.
There has been a rumour floating around for the last few weeks that the Blue and Blacks squad would essentially be filled with fringe and academy Cardiff Blues players, rather than the recent formula of using those players to supplement a semi-professional squad.
As far as I’m aware there is no official basis for that, and it seems to come from people putting the fact that there will be a minimum cost approach taken to the Cardiff RFC squad and the prioritising of the Cardiff Blues Academy together.
However there are definite questions to be asked over what the squad will look like when rugby resumes with Gareth Thompson and Teri Gee being confirmed as moving to Merthyr and no official Blue and Black announcements, although there is talk of signings including Pontypridd second row Sean Moore and Llandovery fly-half Jack Maynard.
That ‘when rugby resumes’ phrase also raises a question, as the start of the 2020/21 Indigo Group Premiership season is very much up in the air at the moment, with the semi-professional nature of the competition making a comeback very difficult to see in the short-term.
Unlike at the professional level, where controlled training environments and full testing capabilities are present, the Premiership will struggle to return to training let alone playing with the financial backing for a full testing programme not there, and players representing a risk of community transmission with their day jobs.
At this stage it appears October is the earliest that community rugby will be back in Wales, but even that is in the early planning stage at the moment, with matchday revenue and sponsorship opportunities either non-existent or severely restricted in the meantime.
It is not clear what the state of play is financially for Cardiff RFC, for example are players still being paid or if contracts can be honoured, and this question then leads back to that comment in the meeting notes between CF10 and Cardiff Blues.
If Cardiff Blues Ltd decide that they no longer are able to fund two teams, or Cardiff Athletic Club are looking to take over the running of the Blue and Blacks, then the only way the team continues is if CAC get their hands back on the money for the car park at the Arms Park, which earns a more than solid six figures a year.
It’s unlikely that Cardiff Blues Ltd would be prepared to give that up in any negotiations, so Cardiff RFC are left in this awkward no-man’s land as the COVID-19 pandemic and negotiations over CAP’s future drag on.
Maybe one day we’ll get some good news on this front…