The Irish Rugby Football Union's latest annual report has shown the organisation suffered a deficit of €35.7m, with increased expenditure and the loss of gate receipts taking a heavy toll.

Last month, their chief executive Philip Browne warned that the professional game in this country could go to the wall by next year if supporters continue to be locked out of stadiums due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Browne said that Irish Rugby's losses were forecast to be over €30m, and so it has proved.

Listen to the RTÉ Rugby podcast on Apple PodcastsSoundcloudSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The national men's and women's teams finally resume their Guinness Six Nations campaigns this weekend but they will do so in empty stadiums with the country currently in Level 5 of the government's restrictions.

The IRFU recorded its best ever financial year in 2019, coming out with a surplus of over €28m, though that did include a sum of just over €24m which came in from the sale of land at Newlands Cross

This year their financial position has changed dramatically.

A change to the IRFU's accounting period to 31 July - to align the financial year to the season, which now stretches to July to accommodate the Summer Tour - means the 2020 financial statements cover a 15-month period.

The IRFU suffered a total deficit of €35.7m after income fell from €87.5m to €79.2m, gate receipts dropped by €5.8m and expenditure increased from €84.2m to just under €115m.

Player and management costs increased by €4.8m due to the additional three months of payroll.

The annual report also highlights the movement in bad debt provision of just over €16m, which arose due to Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster - deprived of their usual matchday revenue - being unable to pay their share of the player salary costs paid by the IRFU.

Costs increased too for the Sevens teams and the academy, with high-performance expenses going up by over €1m in relation to the running of the IRFU High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus, as well as staff increases agreed in the 2019/20 budget.

Domestic and community game costs rose by around €3m, while grounds fees increased significantly due to three additional months of license fees paid to the Aviva Stadium.

"It is no surprise that Irish Rugby has experienced one of its worst financial years ever," said Browne.

"Covid-19 will continue to challenge us all until a vaccine is available and we are very grateful to the government, our sponsors and our patrons for continuing to stand with us at a time where we are unable to fill the Aviva Stadium with our fantastic fans.

"At a time of despair for many, sport can provide a welcome distraction to the reality of our situation. Over the coming weeks our women and men will pull on the green jersey to represent us all, and in doing so will give many of us all a welcome lift out of the doom and gloom of Covid-19, even if just for a short while."

Meanwhile, Des Kavanagh of County Carlow Football Club has been elected President of the IRFU, following a distinguished contribution to the game at club, provincial and union level.

In becoming the 132nd president of the association, he is also the first representative from a junior club in Leinster to hold the office since Pat Fitzgerald (Longford RFC) in 2013/14.

Follow Ireland v Italy (3.30pm Saturday) with our live blog on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app or listen to live commentary on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1. Follow Ireland v Italy in the Women's Six Nations (6.30pm) live on RTÉ2 and on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra.