A £300 million package to help save summer sport will be announced in the Budget on Wednesday, Telegraph Sport can reveal, with English cricket set to be among the big winners.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, will announce the new funding, which is designed to help sporting bodies and professional clubs deal with the cash crunch from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The money, a combination of “soft” loans lasting up to 20 years and grants, will be handed out via an independent board ed by Sir Ian Cheshire, the former chairman of Barclays Bank.
While it remains to be seen exactly who is approved for funding, Government insiders predicted English cricket, tennis, horse racing, rugby league and the Women’s Super League would benefit.
One Culture Department source predicted 10s of millions of pounds would be going to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and other cricket bodies.
The ECB is understood to have warned the Government that unless it was given extra funds grass-roots cricket projects faced cuts as it focused on propping up struggling county cricket clubs.
The money could also ease the return of supporters into cricket grounds, likely in time for England’s home cricket Test series against New Zealand and India.
Crowds are due to be allowed back into stadiums, albeit in a strictly limited capacity, by mid-May under the Government's reopening "roadmap".
Mr Sunak told the Telegraph: “As a huge cricket fan I know there’s nothing that says summer more than watching your favourite team.
“I can’t wait for sports grounds to be filled with fans with atmosphere again – this £300m cash boost will help make that a reality.” Lord (Ian) Botham also welcomed the news, telling this newspaper: "Everyone in the cricketing world will be delighted. It’s been a tough time for the sport.
“But this could give us the opportunity to get the fans safely back in the stadiums, which is the next step. Cricket is our summer sport and I’m pleased that it‘s being looked after.”
The money is effectively an extension of a scheme put in place back in November called the Sport Winter Survival Package, which also saw £300m of Government cash invested.
The drive is primarily designed as a way to help professional clubs and sporting bodies who have seen their financial plans ripped up during the pandemic, with fans barred from stadiums.
The money will be allocated through an independent board led by Sir Ian Cheshire, the former chairman of Barclays Bank.
Sports whose seasons take place over summer time, such as cricket and tennis, were largely overlooked for more urgent needs in the Winter funding package but are now expected to be at the front of the queue.
The support is predominantly aimed at the professional side of the game but the funding has trickle-down consequences for the grassroots.
The ECB is understood to have warned the Government that financial support for local-level cricket and the women’s game would be scaled back without more money.
The argument made, according to Government insiders, was that with county cricket clubs starved of ticket receipts some were at risk of going under and had to be prioritised.
A cash injection for English cricket means the cuts warned about by the ECB would be less likely to happen.
A Culture Department source said: “The goal throughout has been to not lose a major sports club and institution through Covid. So far we’ve managed it. This new money is to make sure we can keep it up and come through the other side of Covid.”
The source said while some of the funding is offered in the form of loans they come with low interest rates and do not have to be paid back for up to 20 years.
“The Government’s priority is to protect organisations with real community value. We’re not going to be calling in loans if it’s going to tip over a club,” the source added.
Analysis: What does it all mean for British summer sport?
by Tom Morgan, Sports News Correspondent
Just three weeks ago, Boris Johnson was privately discussing plans for Wimbledon and Euro 2020 to be the sporting celebrations that announced Britain was back.
Last week, Downing Street vowed to rescue the "crown jewels" of Britain's sporting summer with crowds. Now, the Treasury has coughed up a princely sum to save the whole sector. To add to the glee of fans returning from May 17, huge swathes of sport can now rest assured that they will also get access to another support package worth £300m.
Here the Telegraph examines what the Sport's Summer Survival Package will look like, and where the cheques will go:
English cricket is billed to be the big winner, but elite sport should be covered across tennis, horse racing, rugby league and women's football. Any sport losing gate receipts beyond March 31 - when the current winter survival package runs out - should also be allowed to apply. The fresh support is again predominantly aimed at the professional side of the game but the funding has trickle-down consequences for the grassroots. In November, 11 sports were offered support, mostly as loans.
A cheque for rugby league will be a major relief after receiving just £12m in the last package, while union received £135m. The prospect of further help for women's football, which received around £2.3m for the top two tiers in the last round tennis, which received approximately £5m, will also delight a cash-strapped sector, and horse racing, which was given £40m, will also spark delight. Sports should not start holding their breath, however. Many applicants for the winter fund were still finalising allocations a fortnight ago following protracted negotiations.
What does this mean for sport?
A combination of loans and grants to be paid back over 20 years is primarily aimed at the summer sports, but the fund also stops other competitions from dropping off a cliff-edge when the winter survival package runs out at the end of this month. With the sum matching the figure handed out for the winter sports, the figures would suggest that the Government does not realistically expect full stadiums before the height of summer. Ultimately, this package gives the majority of summer sports clarity to start planning and spending on facilities in line with the Prime Minister's roadmap towards abandoning social-contact restrictions in venues from June 21.
Wimbledon, The Open, Silverstone and Royal Ascot are all planning to welcome crowds after the Prime Minister announced that, from May 17, gates can finally open. The first spectators could be back as soon as April with pilot events, including potentially the Carabao Cup final, as part of preparations for venues to open up to 10,000 from May 17. Whitehall sources said there was flexibility in the plan, but one Culture Department insider predicted 10s of millions of pounds would be going to the ECB and other cricket bodies.
Will there be a process around it?
Whitehall sources describe sport as entering a "process of transition" towards normality from the start of April, when previous funds run out, and crowd pilots begin. The money will be handed out via an independent board led by Sir Ian Cheshire, the former chairman of Barclays Bank. In the last tranche of payouts, sports spent up to two months in talks with auditors working with Deloitte as details were finalised over the packages they are due to receive. As ever, there will be tensions in sports over whether they are liable for grants rather than loans. Last time, Government adopted a policy of only providing permanent handouts to competitions or clubs who could illustrate they have no means of repaying over the ensuing years. The ECB is understood to have warned the Government that unless it was given extra funds, grass-roots cricket projects faced cuts as it focused on propping up struggling country cricket clubs.
Where will tensions remain?
Seasons due to end in May will only be able to claim minimal figures, and Government is likely to maintain its position that the Premier League can retain responsibility for the Football League's current woes. The Football League, currently wrangling with the Treasury over restrictions on a £100m-plus loan for the Championship, has assured executives they are working on alternative solutions to deliver the bailout, as frustration increases across the division. The Chancellor has been urged by other sports to consider underwriting German and Dutch-style insurance schemes to provide compensation if fresh restrictions forced them to cancel events or play matches behind closed doors again at short notice. Hope was fading in sport on Monday night that this will be granted.