UK Govt largesse for COVID-floundering sports


UK cash boost for clubs and stadiums Image: Ricoh Arena

The pound 300 lifeline, mostly loans, provided by the UK Government to 11 spectator sports in England is sure to keep them afloat at a time when the United Kingdom has gone into a national lockdown what with the new COVID-19 strain taking a huge toll on lives and the sports venue sector bleeding white due to nil gate-related revenue with all sports fixtures a closed door affair.

Media reports stated that the aid will be “largely composed of loans” and is the “most generous of any Government for its domestic sport sector in the world”.

Following the announcement, an eight-member independent decision-making Board has been formed recently in this regard to oversee final funding allocations with the administrative support of Sport England.

Stated Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, “Sports clubs are the beating hearts of their communities, and this £300m boost will help them survive this difficult winter period. We promised to stand by sports when we had to postpone fans returning. We are doing just that by delivering another £300m on top of existing business support schemes.”

“Britain is a sports powerhouse, and this Government will do everything we can to help our precious sports and clubs make it through COVID,” Dowden added.

The Board comprises Sir Ian Cheshire (Chair), Chairman of Barclays Bank UK PLC, Lord Patel of Bradford, Chairman of Social Work England, Denise Lewis, OBE, British sports presenter and Olympic heptathlon gold medalist, Nick Timothy CBE, Non-Executive Board Member of the Department for Education and Member of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, Ben Dean, Director of Sport, Gambling and Ceremonials, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Tim Hollingsworth, OBE, Chief Executive, Sport England, Sally Munday MBE, Chief Executive, UK Sport, Natalie Ceeney CBE, Vice-Chair of Sport England and Chair of Innovate Finance.

Based on submissions made to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) from the individual sports, the Government made the initial allocations on a needs-based assessment.

While most leagues clubs and associations will benefit from the largesse, football’s Premier League and English Association clubs have been denied a share of this bounty and rugby has been allocated the lion’s share.

“Support will be provided to rugby union, horse racing, women’s football and the lower tiers of the National League football,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said in a statement.

Rugby League, motorsport, tennis, netball, basketball, ice hockey, badminton and greyhound racing are also in line to benefit,” the DCMS statement added.

The lower tier football would get £28m, the break-up of which is the National League (steps 1-2) to get £11m on top of £10m National Lottery funding, steps 3-6 to get £14m, and women’s football, £3m.

On the other hand the rugby league would get £12m and the rugby union allocated a whopping £135m, the breakdown of the latter reads rugby football union: £44m, premiership rugby clubs: £59m championship rugby clubs: £9m and rugby clubs below championship: £23m.

As to why professional football clubs had been left out, Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston explained that there was “enough money to go around” in football to make it an exception but denied there had been any bias in awarding funds as regards rugby.

Huddleston added, “Over the past few weeks we have worked tirelessly with sport governing bodies and clubs across the country to fully assess what support is needed, as a result of the decision to postpone the return of fans. We know the vast majority of sports -many of which operate on tight financial margins – have been making serious cost reductions, such as locking down grounds, taking up the furlough scheme for many staff and halting excess payments.”

The Sports Minister further added, “Whilst the Government’s overall economic package has provided a significant buffer, it is absolutely right that we now intervene to protect entire sports, and the communities they support, as we navigate this pandemic.”

The breakdown of other sports and associations that would benefit from the Sports Winter Survival Package are horseracing: £40m, racecourses: £40m, Motorsport: £6m (owners/operators of major circuits Silverstone, Goodwood, The British Automobile Racing Club, MotorSport Vision), lawn tennis: £5m (Lawn Tennis Association), Net ball: £4m (divided between England Netball: £2m, Super League Netball: £2m), basketball: £ 4m: (divided between Basketball England: £1m and British Basketball League clubs including Women’s British Basketball League clubs: £3m), Ice Hockey: £4m (Elite League), Badminton: £2m (Badminton England), and Greyhound racing: £1m (Greyhound Board of Great Britain).

In May 2020, the Government stepped in to protect rugby league with £16m in emergency loans, and in October 2020 it announced that £100m would be provided to support council-run leisure centers which were in dire. Sport England had announced a £220m emergency fund for grassroots clubs in April.

Sport England is a non-departmental public body under the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive, Sport England, stated, “These are unprecedented times for our sector, and those sports and leagues that rely so heavily on spectators for their income that has been especially impacted by the pandemic. The role they play in their local communities is vital and this package of support from the Government will be hugely welcomed.”

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