Nigel Huddleston – 2020 Speech on Financial Support for the Sport Sector

The speech made by Nigel Huddleston, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in the House of Commons on 19 November 2020.

For millions of people up and down the country, sport is so much more than a pastime. Sports clubs, large and small, enrich lives both on and off the pitches, the courts and the grounds, and they play a vital role in their communities. The value that sports clubs bring to their communities has been clearer than ever during this pandemic, and it is right that we support them.

Earlier this year, in May, we announced a £16 million emergency bail-out for rugby league to prevent the sport’s collapse, and the Treasury’s multi-billion-pound support packages, including the furlough and loan schemes, have been a lifeline for countless sports clubs and organisations across the country, helping them to stay afloat when their doors remained closed. Sport England has announced separate emergency funding of £220 million for grassroots clubs, and we recently announced a £100 million scheme for leisure centres. Together, that support has acted as a significant buffer to the pain.

However, we know that the decision taken in late September not to re-open the stadiums from 1 October has had major consequences for sports clubs large and small. It was the right decision, given the rate at which coronavirus was spreading across the country, but clearly, not being able to generate gate receipts deprives many organisations of a major source of income. The vast majority of those sports operate on tight financial margins and have been forced to make serious cost reductions such as locking down grounds, furloughing their staff, cutting wages, and halting excess payment. It was clear that if we did not act, a number of clubs would go to the wall, with real consequences for the grassroots game. That is why, over the past few weeks, we have been working tirelessly with the sports sector to understand the real pressures it is facing.

We promised to stand by the sports sector when we made the decision to postpone the return of fans, and today I am pleased to announce a £300 million sports winter survival package to see major spectator sports through this difficult period. The majority of that funding will be given through low-interest loans, with flexible repayment terms and grants where organisations are unable to repay loans. The package will focus on those sports that have been severely impacted by the restrictions announced in September, and it is the largest package announced by any Government for its domestic sport sector in the world.

I stress that these are provisional allocations of funding. They were made on a needs-based assessment process, and reflect the submissions made by the individual sports. Recipients will still need to apply, and the funding process will be overseen by an independent decision-making board, and supported by Sport England. That funding will include a top-up for rugby league of up to £12 million, as well as cash injections of up to £28 million for national league football and women’s football, up to £135 million for rugby union, and up to £40 million for horseracing. There is also up to £6 million for motorsport, up to £4 million each for netball, basketball, and ice hockey, up to £1 million for greyhound racing, up to £5 million for tennis, and up to £1.6 million for badminton.

Today’s provisional allocations are not the end of the story. The door is open for any sport to apply where there is a need. That includes cricket and other sports that are not on the initial list of allocations. Full details of the application process will shortly be announced by Sport England, with the first tranche of support expected to be distributed to clubs and bodies before the end of the year. In the meantime, if any individual club is facing imminent collapse, we will work with it through its national governing body. Based on the information that sports have given us, this package will help them to survive until the spring.

Of course, we would all prefer to see fans back in the stadiums. Spectator sports need spectators, and with the real progress that we are making on vaccines and testing, that goal is now firmly within our sight. Until then, we have stepped in to protect not just individual clubs and organisations, but entire sports and the communities they serve. I commend this statement to the House.