IRFU chief executive Philip Browne has issued a stark warning about the financial viability of professional rugby and other sports amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The union is set to lose between €15m and €20m if this season's Six Nations and autumn internationals aren't completed, and Browne has warned that the sport will take a generation to get back on its feet without Government support.

But Browne did have some welcome news for professional rugby, following confirmation that private equity group CVC has announced a 28% acquisition of the Guinness Pro14.

This will provide a €33.5m boost for the IRFU coffers.

"The announcement of CVC's investment in the Guinness Pro14 league is very positive news, not just for the financial benefit it brings, but also as important at this time is the confidence it shows in the Pro14 tournament and the game of rugby in general," Browne said

"Under this agreement, CVC will acquire, on a phased basis, a 28% share of the Pro14 tournament. 

"Their investment will allow Pro14, together with the Irish, the Italian, the Scottish and the Welsh rugby unions, to invest in the sport, while allowing the tournament the opportunity to achieve its full potential over the longer term."

Delving deeper into the new deal, Browne said: "From an Ireland-specific perspective, the IRFU is phasing its sale of equity to CVC, with payments being received over the next three seasons. The total value to Irish rugby is in the order of £30m (net of costs), with an initial sum expected today of approximately £5m.

"While hugely welcome, and an enormous vote of confidence in rugby, the investment must be viewed in the context of the mammoth financial issues the IRFU is facing, where revenue losses in the order of €15m to €20m will be encountered should the 2019 Six Nations not be completed and the Guinness Autumn series cancelled. All this against a background where the IRFU's cash reserves are likely to be exhausted within a matter of months."

The IRFU hopes professional rugby will return to these shores by the end of August and that international fixtures will be possible from autumn.

The intention is that there will be a series of derbies within the five countries that make up the Guinness Pro14, beginning from the weekend of 23-24 August.

The Pro14 also plans to hold play-offs and a final, and according to Browne, it is also hoped that the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup will also take place. 

Browne said that the expectation is that the new Pro 14 season would begin in early October. 

All of these proposals will be part of Irish rugby's return to sport proposals, which will require Government approval.

The IRFU chief executive believes the game transcends sport and represents a crucial return to normality. 

"In these times, these matches are not just rugby fixtures, they are a beacon of hope for the entire country," he said. "A step, albeit a small one, in Ireland's opening up to an environment for which the entire country yearns, deserves and has sacrificed so much to win back.

"We very much look forward to being able to play our part in delivering this much needed tonic for the country.

"In looking slightly further ahead towards a resumption of international matches, it is our ambition to see a resumption of international fixtures in the autumn.

"Specifically, what this will look like, it is too early to say. What I can say is that we are proactively engaging with World Rugby and our fellow unions to work on a programme which will deliver international matches here sometime in October or November.

"Obviously, as part of this approach, we are keeping a close eye on the various top-level sports around the world which are now coming back to play."

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Describing the financial impact the pandemic has inflicted on sporting organisations as "catastrophic", Browne revealed: "Almost 70 clubs have already applied for support through the Club Continuity Support Fund and this will only grow. The IRFU will do what it can to lend support to clubs but there is only so far drastically depleted funds can stretch.

"It is not sensationalist to suggest that without Government financial support, sport will take a generation to get back on its feet, leaving an enormous void at the heart of communities throughout the land.

"Sport and clubs have played an inestimable but often undervalued role in the development of our young and the health of the general population.

"I would call on Government, who have done such a magnificent job in shepherding the country from the worst excesses of this pandemic over the past months, to fully recognise sport's contribution and role as a core strand in the fabric of our society, and in turn provide the significant financial support all sports will need in the difficult transition from dormant isolation, to vibrancy, across their communities."