All Blacks get 50 percent pay freeze as COVID-19 threatens season washout
The All Blacks accepted a 50 percent pay freeze on Thursday as New Zealand's players' association said it was preparing for the nightmare scenario of no more professional rugby this year.
After the coronavirus pandemic shut down global sport, New Zealand Rugby and the players' association agreed to put on hold NZ$25 million (US$15 million), or 50 percent of the year's remaining forecast player spend.
The New Zealand government is expected to announce a slight easing of coronavirus restrictions next week, but has warned this will not immediately include a resumption of events which attract crowds.
The cutbacks will apply to Super Rugby players, including All Blacks, the women's Black Ferns and the sevens programmes, and are designed to protect players on retainers of less than NZ$50,000.
"The players are committed to playing their part in ensuring the long-term future of the sport and to ensure the game best manages the financial implications of COVID-19," New Zealand Rugby Players' Association chief executive Rob Nichol said.
"In contemplating a scenario based on no professional rugby in 2020, NZR and the NZRPA together recognised the need to act now to prepare the game and the players for this, even if there is every intention of doing all we can to avoid it."
The frozen payments will be "waived permanently" if no more rugby is possible this year, but some of them could be reinstated if play restarts, Nichol said.
NZR boss Mark Robinson said the freeze covered the base salary of players, assembly payments and other financial benefits and incentives, as well as reductions in player-funded welfare and development activities.
"The players signalled their desire to play their part right from the get-go and the conversations over the past few weeks have been very constructive. It was vital the sport was ready for whenever we can get back on the field," he said.
The New Zealand pay freeze was announced as neighbouring Rugby Australia indicated it too was close to a deal following several weeks of negotiations with players.
"We have made good progress," Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said in a statement following her latest meeting with the players association (RUPA) on Tuesday.
"Both parties appreciate what is at stake and the players recognise their role and shared responsibility in securing the future and helping the game navigate through this unprecedented challenge," she added.