Ministers unveil £300m coronavirus survival package for sports

It came as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said there was ‘a chance’ of some spectators being allowed into venues by Christmas.

And empty rugby league stadium
And empty rugby league stadium

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston has rejected the notion of any class or geographical split in the Government’s support package for the sector as he again called on the Premier League and EFL to reach a “compromise” on their own rescue deal.

A “winter survival package’ worth a combined £300 million to help sports cope with the loss of gate receipts due to the coronavirus pandemic was announced on Thursday.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden also said there was “definitely a chance” of some spectators being allowed into venues by Christmas.

Eleven sports are earmarked to receive £241 million in indicative funding to cover the disruption to their usual earnings over the winter, with an independent decision-making board tasked with making the final calls on who gets what.

The remainder of the £300m, which Mr Huddleston estimated to be £250m in loans and £50m in grants, will be kept as a contingency fund to assist with unforeseen pressures.

The support package was broadly welcomed by the sports benefiting from it, but critics pointed to the support for rugby union – indicated to be £135m – and racing as evidence of the Conservatives protecting middle and upper-class pursuits.

Mr Huddleston said: “There’s a whole variety of sports being supported by this and the very first sport was rugby league at the start of the coronavirus.

“The money is based on the need of clubs to make sure they survive, so it is not a north-south divide, Tory vs Labour area, you will see the money is being spread fairly well across the country.

“It is based on an assessment of need and I am comfortable with that criteria rather than anything else being applied.”

Premiership Rugby teams are set to benefit from £59m of the Government assistance package
Premiership Rugby teams are set to benefit from £59m of the Government assistance package (Mike Egerton/PA)

Mr Huddleston also said it was a “false comparison” to look at why Premiership Rugby was receiving state support, and the EFL was not.

“Who else is coming in to save the RFU?” he asked.

“Is there somebody above them? Who else is coming in to be able to say ‘we’ve got money, we’ve shown that we’ve got money available’.

“To be able to support others, there is no alternative option other than Government to come in, whereas in the EFL, there is the alternative option of Premier League funding.”

He called again on the Premier League and the EFL to reach an agreement over a deal to safeguard the future of EFL clubs.

Negotiations are continuing over a £50 million offer to help clubs in Leagues One and Two, but it has been reported the EFL is concerned that £30 million of that is being offered as loans rather than grants.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has been urged to come to a
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has been urged to come to a “compromise” over an EFL deal (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We are doing everything we can to encourage (EFL chairman) Rick (Parry) and (Premier League chief executive) Richard (Masters) to come to a reasonable arrangement,” Huddleston said.

“The fact that the initial deal was rejected is a statement of fact and I appeal to Richard and Rick to both compromise and come to reasonable terms.”

Mr Huddleston said the emergency fund had been put together following the decision to postpone the return of spectators to venues across sport from October 1.

He said it had not been a mistake to set that date, despite many public health experts warning early in the summer of a “second wave” of infections in the autumn and winter.

“I don’t think it raised people’s hopes. The thing is the data is moving at incredible speeds,” he said.

A Brighton fan uses hand sanitiser at a pilot event for the return of spectators
A programme of pilot events for the return of spectators had to be abandoned (Adam Davy/PA)

Mr Dowden has raised hopes of spectators being able to attend matches in the lowest-risk areas of the country, saying that the rollout of mass, rapid testing could help to make it happen.

Racecourses are poised to receive £40 million while the Rugby Football League will benefit to the tune of a further £12 million, topping up the £16 million announced in May to safeguard rugby league’s future.

Football’s National League at steps one and two – which has already benefited from £10 million in National Lottery funding to assist through to the end of 2020 – will receive a further £11 million to cover the period between January and the end of March.

Steps three to six of the pyramid will receive £14 million while the Women’s Super League and Championship have been awarded £3 million.

Owners and operators of major motorsports circuits will receive a combined £6 million, the Lawn Tennis Association will get £5 million and England Netball will receive £2 million.

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