English sport thrown $535m winter lifeline

LONDON • The British government announced a £300 million (S$534.5 million) "winter survival package" on Thursday to help sport through the Covid-19 pandemic, with rugby set for the biggest share but nothing for top-level football and cricket.

The first payments will be made over the coming weeks, mainly as low-interest loans with flexible terms but also through grants.

The money covers sport in England, with other parts of the United Kingdom having separate budgets.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston told parliament it was clear some clubs would go to the wall unless action was taken.

"We know the decision taken in late September not to reopen stadia from Oct 1 has had major consequences for sports clubs large and small," he said. "Clearly, for many organisations, not being able to generate gate receipts deprives them of a major source of income."

Support will be provided to both rugby codes, horse racing, the National League and women's football, motor sport, tennis, netball, basketball, ice hockey, badminton and greyhound racing.

More than 100 sports bodies wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September asking for emergency funding and warning of "a lost generation of activity".

Preliminary allocations by sport, based on needs assessment, saw rugby union top the list with £135 million. Premiership rugby clubs, who warned of bankruptcies without state aid, accounted for £59 million and the national Rugby Football Union £44 million.

Horse racing will get £40 million to support racecourses closed to spectators, while the National League, which sits below the Football league, and women's football receive £28 million.

Motor sport, which employs more than 40,000 in Britain, was allocated £6 million to help operators of circuits like Silverstone.

"Today's provisional allocations aren't the end of the story. The door is open for any sport to apply where there's a need and this includes cricket and others who aren't in the initial list of allocations," said Huddleston.

"This is a winter survival package. It is not meant to be a full pound-for-pound compensation for lost revenue."

Badminton England chief executive Adrian Christy told the BBC his sport had lost more than £2.2 million in income since the start of the pandemic but the package would help close the gap.

Swimming was not on the list and Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson said aquatic sports were also in a fight for survival and needed support.

The government has said it expects professional men's football to support itself, with wealthy Premier League clubs enjoying lucrative television deals and considerable sponsorship.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2020, with the headline 'English sport thrown $535m winter lifeline'. Print Edition | Subscribe