INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Australian flag carrier Qantas announced it would no longer fund sports sponsorships Wednesday, severing a 30-year association with the Wallabies and intensifying Rugby Australia's budget crisis.
Qantas said it could not justify paying for sponsorships when the Covid-19 pandemic meant it was cutting 2,500 jobs and had posted an annual pre-tax loss of Aus$2.7 billion (US$1.9 billion).
"While we're dealing with this crisis and its aftermath, the cash cost of our sponsorships has to be zero," the airline's chief customer officer Stephanie Tully said in a statement.
The airline said it would offer "in-kind" support such as flights to Cricket Australia and Football Federation Australia for the next 12 months, as well as supporting Australia's Olympic and Paralympic athletes at the 2021 Tokyo Games.
But it ended the relationship with Rugby Australia, which began in 1990 and gradually expanded to see the airline back the national team at five Rugby World Cups - two of which they won - and British and Irish Lions tours in 2001 and 2013.
"Qantas has had a very long association with Rugby Australia and the Wallabies, and we've stuck with each other during difficult times," Tully said.
"Unfortunately, this pandemic has been the undoing. Like all Australians, we'll continue to cheer them on from the sidelines."
Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke thanked Qantas for its decades of support.
"While it is obviously disappointing to lose such a loyal partner, it is understandable given the world we are all now living in and the challenges we are all facing," he said.
Rugby Australia was already struggling financially, sacking 47 workers or a third of its staff in June and asking those remaining to take pay cuts.
It is also without a broadcast partner after an ill-timed effort to squeeze for a better deal coincided with the sporting calendar being thrown into turmoil by the Covid-19 crisis.
The organisation posted a near Aus$10 million ($6 million) deficit last year, exacerbated by a hefty payment to former Wallaby Israel Folau after his sacking over homophobic social media posts.