English rugby union secures lion’s share of government bailout

The UK Government has today (Thursday) confirmed a £300m (€335.7m/$397.3m) cash injection for “major spectator sports” in England, but elite men’s football and cricket has been excluded.

The Sports Winter Survival Package is designed to support sports through the winter period, from national governing bodies through to clubs, that have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

It is claimed that the funding, which will be largely composed of loans, is the most generous from any Government for its domestic sport sector in the world. Support will be provided to rugby union, horse racing, women’s football and the lower tiers of the National League. Rugby league, motorsport, tennis, netball, basketball, ice hockey, badminton and greyhound racing are also in line to benefit.

A preliminary breakdown of funding by sport, based on needs assessment, states that rugby union will take the lion’s share of the funding, some £135m in total. This will comprise £44m for the Rugby Football Union (RFU), £59m for Premiership clubs, £9m for Championship teams and £23m for those below the second tier.

The horseracing industry is projected to receive £40m, while football has been earmarked for £28m. Some £25m of this will go to the National League, with £3m earmarked for the Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship.

The Rugby Football League (RFL) is poised to receive £12m. The Government said this will be delivered as a top-up to the existing loan scheme announced in May, to reflect updated circumstances.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “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.”

Today’s funding announcement comes as English sport copes with a dearth of matchday income as fans continue to be absent from venues amid the ongoing national lockdown. Earlier this week, it was reported that football fans in England could be allowed back at stadiums before the end of the year under new plans proposed by the DCMS.

The DCMS on Tuesday held a virtual meeting with representatives from the Premier League, English Football League (EFL) and Football Association (FA). While specific details of the meeting were not officially announced, it has been widely reported that the DCMS has proposed a system whereby fans would be able to attend matches depending on which tier of COVID-19 restrictions their local area is in.

England’s current lockdown is due to run until December 2, at which point the country is expected to return to a tiered system of local restrictions.

Questioned today on TalkSport over the prospect of fans returning before the end of the year, Dowden said: “Yes, there is definitely a chance of it. We have to be guided by the scientific evidence. We are in close discussions with the centre of government, the Cabinet Office and Prime Minister’s office and with the government scientists about what we could do as we go back into the tier system to see if there is a possibility in the lower risk areas.”

A £50m Premier League rescue package for lower-league clubs was last week approved by the EFL following progress in talks between the top-tier league and the second-tier Championship. The Government has consistently stressed that it would not be prepared to aid elite men’s football.

Under today’s plan, each sport will need to go through an application process to access the support they are eligible for under the final design of the scheme. The final amount received by each sport/organisation may differ from the amounts projected when final decisions are made by an independent decision-making board, and supported by Sport England.

Nigel Huddleston, Sports Minister, 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.

“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.”

Image: DCMS