English sport handed £300 million 'winter survival package'

By Alan Baldwin
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Derby Festival
FILE PHOTO: Derby Festival

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government announced a 300 million pounds ($397.11 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 soccer and cricket.

The first payments will be made in the coming weeks, mainly as low-interest loans with flexible terms but also in the form of 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 to protect them.

"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 rugby of both codes, horse racing, the National League and women’s soccer, motorsport, tennis, netball, basketball, ice hockey, badminton and greyhound racing.

More than 100 sports bodies wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September to ask for emergency funding, warning of "a lost generation of activity" because of the pandemic.

Preliminary allocations by sport, based on needs assessment, saw rugby union top the list with up to 135 million pounds of which the Premiership clubs accounted for 59 million and the national Rugby Football Union 44 million.

Horse racing was next, with 40 million pounds to support racecourses closed to spectators, while the National League and women's soccer was set to get 28 million.

Motorsport, which employs more than 40,000 people in Britain, was allocated six million pounds 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," he added. "It is not meant to be a full pound-for-pound compensation for lost revenue."

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

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said Britain was a sports powerhouse "and this Government will do everything we can to help our precious sports and clubs make it through COVID."

The DCMS said funding would be overseen by an independent decision-making board supported by Sport England.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Giles Elgood and Ken Ferris)