Professional and Amateur Sport: Government Support

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 30th September 2020.

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Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 12:45 pm, 30th September 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Her passion and dedication to the sporting sector are well known and appreciated, and on behalf of the whole House I wish her the very best for a speedy recovery and a swift return to this place.

Like my hon. Friend, the Government believe that sports clubs are the beating heart of their communities. Were we to lose them, we would lose so much more than sport. That is why, to help community clubs through this crisis, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport funding body Sport England announced a £210 million emergency fund, and why earlier this year the Government stepped in to protect rugby league from the imminent threat of collapse. Both those interventions were on top of the multi-billion pound package of business support from the Treasury that enabled many of our sports clubs to survive.

We have also made sure every step of the way to try to enable as much grassroots sport as possible. Being active and healthy is essential in our national battle against the virus. Reinstating elite sport and, of course, grassroots sport in a covid-secure way was a major achievement, and I pay tribute to all those who made that possible. Behind-closed-doors matches have enabled vital broadcast revenue to flow into elite sport, as well as bringing joy to millions of fans. The Government ensured that Project Restart was shared with everyone by getting premier league football on the BBC for the first time ever.

However, I know that we all want our fans back in stadiums as soon as possible. Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways. We trialled the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, but rising infection rates across the country meant that the Government had to act, and we could not proceed on 1 October as planned. We have to contain the virus, and, given the backdrop of rising infection rates, we had to press the pause button. I assure the House that we are working at speed, alongside the Treasury, with sports governing bodies and clubs across the country to understand what support they need as a result of the decision to postpone the 1 October return.

For football, we are asking the Premier League to support English Football League clubs—the higher end of the football pyramid. Yesterday, we also provided the national league with assurance that financial support from the Government will be forthcoming so that it can start this season this Saturday. We have asked for detailed financial returns from all major spectator sports to see what support they need. We expect those returns by the end of today, and any club in immediate financial distress should alert its sports governing body.

Sports clubs have proved themselves to be bedrocks of their communities during this pandemic, hosting test centres, looking after vulnerable people, organising food deliveries and so much more. Sports clubs have had our backs during this pandemic. We will have theirs in return.