Football Spectator Attendance: Covid-19 — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:40 pm on 9th November 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 5:40 pm, 9th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and I will indeed make sure that my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis has plenty of time to sum up, given that his nine minutes of fame were disrupted earlier. I am grateful to him for leading the debate and for the contributions that he and many other hon. Members have made. The number of people who signed the petition speaks volumes about the importance of football and sport in general, and about making sure that we get fans back into stadiums.

We are in vehement agreement that we want to make sure that fans get back into stadiums as soon as possible. There is a slight disagreement on how and when we do that, but on both sides of the Chamber, and in all our constituencies, we are of one voice and mind. We want to get fans back as soon as it is safe. That is absolutely the Government’s goal.

Football clubs, as we have heard again and again today, and in all previous debates on the matter, are at the heart of our communities. They have unique social value, and many have rich and honourable histories. As Minister for Sport, I can attest to the importance of football clubs at all levels in their local areas, and to the incredible support that they have offered throughout the pandemic. From turning their car parks into NHS testing centres to delivering food packages to those isolating, that has been demonstrated again and again in the last few months.

The Government have provided an unprecedented support package to businesses throughout the period, including a comprehensive and sizeable package of direct fiscal support through tax reliefs, cash grants and employee wage support. Many football clubs have benefited from those measures and others, such as business rates relief and the furlough scheme. Sport England has provided £210 million of national lottery and Government funding to support the sport and the physical activity sector overall through covid-19. That includes the £35 million community emergency fund, which is helping community sports clubs and exercise centres during the pandemic.

The Football Foundation, a charity set up by the Government, the FA and the Premier League, has also introduced a number of funds to help clubs during these difficult times. The latest is the match day support fund, which helps clubs to prepare for the resumption of football. That follows the foundation’s pitch and club preparation funds, which also distributed grants to many local clubs.

The Government have worked tirelessly to get sports back up and running in the last few months. We were able to get elite sports, including the Premier League, back behind closed doors in June to allow seasons to be finished and vital revenue to flow into the game again. We ensured that Project Restart was shared with everyone by getting live Premier League football on the BBC for the first time. Elite sport will also be allowed to continue during the period of national restrictions that came in from last week.

I am fully aware of the importance of getting spectators back into stadiums for many sports, not just football, but rising infection rates across the country meant that, unfortunately, it was not the right time to proceed with a wider reopening on 1 October, as was widely recognised. A key issue is that this is not just about fans sitting in stands within the stadiums—admittedly outdoors, as many hon. Members have said—where infection rates are generally lower than indoors. We must consider the whole fan journey from home to venue, how fans travel to and from stadiums, the risk of gathering inside and outside such venues, and the high number of contact points that that risks.

David Linden recognised that those are challenges, and not only here. We keep a close eye on what is happening in other nations and, indeed, other countries.