WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The All Blacks and many of their fellow top professional players could lose half of their income if no more rugby is possible this year under cuts announced by New Zealand Rugby (NZR) on Thursday.
In a joint statement with the players' union, NZR said they were immediately freezing around NZ$25 million ($14.88 million), or 50%, of "forecasted player spend" for this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We wanted to come up with solutions that worked for all our players and ensured that all sectors of our game were sharing in the financial pain we are currently enduring," NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said.
In a bid to control the spread of the virus, New Zealand's government enacted a strict lockdown last month which forced the suspension of the intercontinental Super Rugby competition after round seven.
The pandemic has also cast serious doubt over whether the All Blacks will be able to host July tests against Wales and Scotland, and puts big question marks over the Rugby Championship and the November tour of Europe.
"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," said Rob Nichol of the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA).
"In the event that this financial scenario eventuates, the frozen payments and benefits would become waived permanently.
"Alternatively, if professional rugby can resume and the financial outlook improves, then some of the frozen payments and benefits could be reinstated."
All team assembly and tournament fees for national team players have been frozen, with the exception of those for the Black Ferns women's side, the statement said.
All promotional payments and the "vast majority" of performance incentives had also been frozen.
From the start of next month, players with contracts worth more than NZ$50,000 will lose 15% of their base retainer payments rising to 30% if no play is possible before September.
"The model we have agreed protects those on retainers of less than $50,000," NZR's head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said.
"While not all players are being treated exactly the same, we felt these changes were the fairest way to address player payments and benefits, considering all the different ways our players are remunerated."
($1 = 1.6798 New Zealand dollars)
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)
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