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Jamie Smyth in Sydney

Qantas Airways is terminating its 30-year sponsorship of Australia’s national rugby union team, plunging the sport’s finances into a deepening crisis.

The airline said on Wednesday it had no choice but to reduce the cash cost of its five main sports sponsorship to zero, as it dealt with the fallout from the pandemic,

“In an environment where thousands of our people have lost jobs and thousands more are stood down while they wait for flying to restart, we can’t maintain these sponsorships in the way we have in the past,” said Stephanie Tully, Qantas chief customer officer.

“While we’re dealing with this crisis and its aftermath, the cash cost of our sponsorships has to be zero.”

The Wallabies’ Tevita Kuridrani, right, challenges South African captain Siya Kolisi

Rugby Australia has had a tumultuous year with the resignation of Raelene Castle as chief executive in April, shedding a third of its 142 staff and failing to secure a television rights deal for 2021.

Rob Clarke, Rugby Australia interim chief executive, said it was disappointing to lose such a loyal partner as Qantas, although it was understandable given the challenges the airline faced from Covid-19.

Rugby Australia will now seek a new principal sponsor for the Wallabies from December 2020 when Qantas’s support ends.

Qantas has been forced to ground most of its fleet, shed 6,000 staff and furloughed a further 15,000 employees due to the pandemic, which has grounded most of its fleet.

The airline said it would continue its associations with Cricket Australia, the Football Federation of Australia, the Australia Olympic Committee and Paralympics Australia on an in-kind basis, which means they don’t pay cash directly for sponsorship but offer support such as access to flights and marketing channels.

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