CO-OWNER Jason Whittingham insists the short-term future of Worcester Warriors is safe despite stark warnings over the sustainability of Premiership rugby.

Whittingham and business partner Colin Goldring issued a statement in response to prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that Covid-19 restrictions prolonging the absence of fans from professional sport would be likely to continue for “perhaps six months”.

The club revealed such measures would put “additional pressure on our fight for survival and our future plans”, declaring that “Warriors and all professional sports clubs cannot hope to be sustainable without significant support”.

The Warriors statement in full

It came shortly after Premiership Rugby had highlighted the need for a “rescue package” from government but far from being a prophet of doom, Whittingham explained the address had predominantly sought to bring urgency to talks.

“The thinking behind it is to raise awareness,” said Whittingham.

“Since long before my time people have harboured the view that rugby union is a bastion of rich sugar daddies, running clubs as hobbies. That may well have been the case up until a few years ago but as soon as Covid struck there was a definite change in attitude from those clubs.

“I think it made everyone realise that the excess in spending and the unsustainability of the sport – not just any one club – needed some control.

“That is why we made immediate moves to start reducing the salary cap because that had got out of kilter with central distribution (of funds). That is going to help the industry going forward and it will certainly help Worcester Warriors.

“Prior to Covid every club was losing money, probably with the exception of Exeter, and there was nothing on the immediate horizon to suggest it would be any other way.

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“As for Warriors specifically, I have never had any doubt that we will come through this situation in a much stronger position than we entered it in.

“Yes, we could always do with more financial support but whatever we sign up to in terms of losses, one thing to remember is that Worcester as a club has a unique opportunity with the development we have planned for the future of the Sixways site.

“That’s for the future sustainability of the club and the plan has not changed. There was always an amount of money required to get us from here to there until the development starts generating income and that amount of money has now significantly increased because of Covid.

“Now it is a case of finding out what other support there is and until we do that as a sport and suggest we need some help, people aren’t going to help us.

“The reason for a statement with such sobering content is to start getting this on the agenda, that rugby union is not a wealthy sport. It has owners who are wealthy but the sport itself is not and it needs help. Covid has compounded that.

“Worcester Warriors will come through this. There is an amount of money we had earmarked to support the club through this but the announcement (over no fans for up to six months) has seen that number go up.

“We are all in it together as owners and clubs and Worcester is certainly not in the worst position in the league.

“Let’s now call on the government to start looking at industry-specific support, particularly when we have returned to playing.

“This is a community asset that does a great amount of work in and around Worcester through our foundation – it is not just a sport that occupies people on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

“It is time for us to get ourselves farther up the government’s agenda for more support.”

Asked whether the long-term future of the club could be in jeopardy, Whittingham replied: “The uncertainty here is how long Covid will affect this sport, and the return of crowds in particular.

“At the moment, fine, we make provision to get through the next phase of Covid which entails up to six months with no crowds.

“We do lots of things at the club that are not rugby related, we put on lots of other events and hospitality evenings that generate income. We are doing more of those now than we ever have done in the past and they all contribute to the trajectory of sustainability.

“At the moment Warriors will be fine but if Covid goes on for two, three or four years? It is all about getting crowds back.

“If it is six months, fine, we will work our way through that. If in six months it becomes another six months then you’d have to ask me the same question then.”

Whittingham finished with a message of thanks to all the individuals and organisations behind the support Warriors have received during the pandemic.

Some partners have not only stood by the club but enhanced their offerings, much of which has come from local companies.

“The continued support of sponsors, the community and suppliers is invaluable to the club, now more than ever, and we want to thank them for that,” said Whittingham.

“That extends to the staff and the players as well, everyone has been hugely supportive and that is the way we get through this together.”

  • Look out for more parts of this interview in which Jason Whittingham provides detail on player recruitment, development around Sixways and Worcester Raiders next week.