Government to set out financial support plans for struggling sports sector

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston will provide an update on financial support for the sector on Thursday
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston will provide an update on financial support for the sector on Thursday (PA Wire)
18:07pm, Wed 18 Nov 2020
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The sports sector is set to find out on Thursday what financial support it will receive from the Government to help it get through the coronavirus crisis.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston announced he would be providing an update on the matter in the House of Commons on Thursday, with the announcement thought to be coming in the afternoon.

The package is reported to be worth around £300million overall, and to cover 11 sports.

The sector has been badly affected by the loss of matchday revenue, with plans to allow a limited number of spectators to attend events from October 1 having to be scrapped because of a rise in Covid-19 infections.

The Government has repeatedly said that the Premier League should offer financial support to the English Football League, but it does now appear that other sports which have suffered major losses will receive state assistance.

Football’s National League – the competition immediately below the EFL – has already received support to enable it to begin its 2020-21 season. It has been reported that the Women’s Super League will also benefit from Thursday’s announcement.

Cricket will not be included, reports say, but rugby union, horse racing, rugby league, basketball and netball are set to be among the beneficiaries.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his Government was working to get crowds back into venues “as soon as possible”.

Reports emerged on Tuesday evening that the Government was exploring the possibility of spectators being allowed into venues by Christmas in areas with the lowest coronavirus infection rates.

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney asked about the return of fans at PMQs (PA Media)

Johnson is reported to have privately told MPs that reopening sports grounds was “a personal priority”.

Johnson did not offer any specifics on the issue, however, when the matter was raised during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

“I understand the frustration over fans and we hope to get crowds back in the ground as soon as possible,” he said in answer to a question from Karl McCartney, the Conservative MP for Lincoln.

Former FA chairman David Bernstein, who was at a meeting of football leaders which also involved Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on Tuesday, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “There is an obvious desire and a need to get fans back into stadia but in reality this will depend on the progress with Covid.

“We have to be realistic and I suspect, if it happens, it will be a fairly small number of fans in areas that have a lower problem with the rate of Covid.

“I wouldn’t be overly optimistic but clearly everybody wants this as soon as possible.”

McCartney also asked Johnson about the EFL rescue package.

He said: “We don’t want any football team to go out of business as a result of this pandemic and we’re doing everything we can.”

The top flight has made offers of support and clubs in Leagues One and Two are now in negotiations over a £50million rescue package from the Premier League understood to be made up of £20m in grants and £30m in loans.

A second wave of infections has led to a second national lockdown, but reports on Tuesday suggested that if there is a return to a tiered approach to restrictions from early December, then venues in the lowest-risk areas could open up.

Meanwhile, the petition to exempt golf courses from the list of venues required to close during lockdown will be debated on November 23.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf (APPGG) had previously admitted defeat in its bid to keep courses open after writing to the Prime Minister on behalf of England Golf, the PGA, the R&A and other leading groups from the industry.

However the petition, which has received more than 257,000 signatures, will now be debated in Westminster Hall, along with a similar one relating to gyms.

Catherine McKinnell MP, chair of the petitions committee, will lead the debate. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will send a Minister to respond.

England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson said: “We know the benefits our sport can provide for both mental and physical health at this time of isolation and hope the Government can recognise this during the upcoming debate and support golf’s return to playing.

“Earlier this year, the game of golf was able to clearly demonstrate that it could be enjoyed in a Covid-safe way, which is why it was one of the first sports to return once restrictions were lifted.

“This was a privilege that the sport took incredibly seriously and accordingly adopted the highest possible standards to keep participants safe.”

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