National League Football: Covid-19 Support

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 5th November 2020.

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Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

What steps his Department is taking to support National League football.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Our football clubs are the bedrock of their local communities, and it is vital that they are protected from covid-19. Many have benefited from the unprecedented multibillion-pound package of support that we have provided to all businesses across the United Kingdom. In addition, we have brokered a unique £10-million deal with the national lottery so that 66 clubs in the top two levels of the national league can continue to play behind closed doors.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

Of course, this is not just about the national league. I am proud to represent two fantastic football clubs, Tipton Town and Tividale, which are at real risk of closure as a result of covid-19. Can my right hon. Friend reassure my clubs that the Government will do whatever they can to support them? Perhaps once he can, he might even come and meet the clubs to see the fantastic work that they do in the community.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency when that is permitted. Of course, I am immensely disappointed by the current situation and the position that we are in, but I know that football clubs large and small make a huge contribution to their community on and off the pitch, and I can assure my hon. Friend that they will not be forgotten. As soon as we are in a position to start lifting restrictions, grassroots sports will be among the first to return, but until then, we have made sure that families can keep exercising throughout this lockdown, and I urge people to get out and get fit.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Today, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has called before it the English Football League, the Premier League and the Football Association. We want to hear what they are doing in terms of community sport and, crucially, to see whether they can sort out the situation for 10, 12 or 15-year EFL football clubs that are potentially going under and ripping the heart out of our communities, as happened in Bury last year. Will the Minister join me in urging the football bodies to follow the example of other sports and finally put the squabbling aside and come to a proper deal for the good of the game?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with my hon. Friend 100%. I am very disappointed by the current situation and the inability of football to reach that agreement. There is already £50 million on the table for league 1 and league 2 clubs to stop them falling into financial difficulty, which is a good start, and further discussions are taking place. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston met the Premier League and the EFL again this week to reiterate the need to reach an agreement in the interests of all fans.