Image Credit: Andreas H.
On 19 November, it was announced that major spectator sports in England would receive a combined £300 million emergency survival package. This package is meant to support sports over the winter period, being offered to governing bodies through to clubs who are all still impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.
The funding is mainly formed of loans, with the expectation that grants will be offered based upon individual organisations’ needs, and preliminary allocations have been made on a needs-based assessment process. The funding process will be overseen by an independent decision-making board and will be supported by Sport England, and each sport will need to go through an application process to access the funding they are eligible for. The package is to support the sports that have seen significant revenue losses due to the restrictions preventing spectators from attending matches and events.
Rugby Union sees the largest amount of the package in the preliminary breakdown, taking £135 million. It is followed by Horse Racing which gets £40 million of the package, and next is Football with £28 million. The football breakdown only includes National League (steps 1-2), National League (steps 3-6), and Women’s Football as the government has repeatedly said that professional men’s football is wealthy enough to support itself through the crisis. Also in this preliminary list is Rugby League, Motorsport, Tennis, Netball, Basketball, Ice Hockey, Badminton, and Greyhound racing. For sports such as Motorsport and Horse Racing, the money is for the courses and circuits, and guaranteeing the space is still available come the return of spectators to the sport.
Sports Minister, Nigel Huddleston said: “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. 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.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said that a portion of the funding will be distributed in the coming weeks. This is welcome news to many sports as the return of fans to sport can start again in limited numbers, following social distancing from the end of lockdown next month, in permitted areas. The initial return date of 2 October was scrapped as virus infection rates rose in the UK and England were put under the second lockdown rules. The Government has said that spectator safety remains the priority in any decision to reopen sports with spectators but the Government has said they remain committed to their return to live sport. This fund does not support grassroots sport organisations, as the Government has been clear that this package was always about ensuring organisations did not suffer as a result of the postponed return of spectators to sports.
The Chief Executive of Sports England, Tim Hollingsworth said: “These are unprecedented times for our sector, and those sports and leagues that rely so heavily on spectators for their income that have 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 welcomed with open arms. Alongside our wider support for grassroots and community sport, Sport England is working very closely with Government colleagues on the design of this fund and we look forward to playing a key role in its successful and swift delivery.” Sports England is not normally involved in supporting professional sport but was approached by the Government for their help in creating a process through which immediate financial support can be provided to organisations, after the successful implementation of their £16 million Rugby League loans programme.
Hopefully, this package supports sports facing losses due to spectator restrictions through until the Spring as it aims to do. Yet there is still more to be done to financially support the grassroots sporting organisations as restrictions continue post the second lockdown.