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Australian rugby players' pay slashed 60 percent over 'devastating' virus

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Sydney (AFP)

Australia's professional rugby players took a 60 percent pay cut on Monday as the sport battles the "devastating" coronavirus shutdown.

The deal, which affects 192 players, follows three weeks of discussions between Rugby Australia, the country's four Super Rugby teams and the Rugby Union Players Association.

Pay will be slashed by an average of 60 percent over six months, with minimum earnings set at Au$1,500 ($958) a fortnight -- the same as Australia's emergency government entitlements.

Rugby Australia has already put 75 percent of staff on unpaid leave after warning it could lose Au$120 million in revenue if the rest of the season is lost.

"Sporting organisations around the world are experiencing an unprecedented challenge," said Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle.

"This has not been an easy discussion, but it has been a necessary one to ensure that we are able to emerge from the other side of this crisis in the best possible position for the game to move forward," she added.

Australia's cuts come after neighbouring New Zealand slashed players' pay by 50 percent and Welsh players lost 25 percent of their wages.

The sport is contemplating a bleak 2020 with World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont warning that this year's international calendar could be scrapped.

Last week, the global governing body announced a $100 million relief package aimed at supporting national unions around the world.

In March, Rugby Australia announced a nearly Au$10 million deficit after what was already a tough 2019, including a pay-out to Israel Folau for his sacking over homophobic comments.

Australian rugby "continues to navigate the devastating effects of the COVID-19 global health and economic crisis", Monday's statement said.

The players' pay reduction will be amortised over the next five months until the end of September, and will be renegotiated if competition resumes before then.

Australia's national side, the Wallabies, are scheduled to play Ireland and Fiji in July, although Castle has warned the Tests are looking increasingly unlikely.

Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere club competition, has been on hold since March and the Rugby Championship also involving New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina is due to start in August.

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