Alison McGovern – 2020 Speech on Financial Support for the Sport Sector

The speech made by Alison McGovern, the Labour MP for Wirral South, in the House of Commons on 19 November 2020.

I thank the Minister for sight of his statement, and for the accepting manner in which he has dealt with the pestering from me and from other Members on this subject. Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I also thank all the civil servants at the Treasury and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for their hard work on this support package for sport. That work is not unnoticed, and we thank them for it. However, as I mentioned, getting to this point has taken cross-party pestering, and meanwhile, sports are hanging by a thread.

I know that, for the Treasury, sport in the context of the UK Government’s spending is almost a rounding error. It is a comparatively small commitment on the very, very big Treasury spreadsheet, but that fact is irrelevant to how important sport is to families in all our constituencies. It plays a huge role in the life of our country and, given its place in keeping us healthy, we needed a swifter response than this. That is particularly the case when we see how sport has been messed about. In August, with eat out to help out and the Prime Minister saying that he wanted to see “bustle”, sports were told that it was full speed ahead towards the reopening in October until No. 10 executed a sharp about-turn, and since then the pace has been slow to glacial. So in order to speed things up, I would like to help the Minister with some questions that will hopefully prompt action.

In two weeks’ time, the current lockdown arrangements will come to an end, and we hear rumours of a return to the tier system. Can the Minister please clearly explain what that means for grassroots sport? There are so many people who rely on swimming, their football team, their rugby game, their running club or their round of golf for their mental and physical health, and the lack of sport is doing our country damage. It cannot go on for much longer, and that is especially true when it comes to our nation’s children, so will the Minister please tell us when children can return to training? Robbie Savage speaks for the nation when he counts down the days in frustration to when we can play sport, and we need answers.

Next, we need to know that the money the Minister has announced just now will reach sports quickly. The cultural recovery fund did not reach cultural organisations quickly enough, so can we ensure that we have no repeat of that experience? Will he commit to coming back to the House next month to explain the detail of the effect of this funding? Will it reach disability sport effectively, and will it support women’s and men’s sport absolutely equally, by penny piece? What measures will he put in place to ensure that that happens?

We live in uncertain times, and the once predictable sporting calendar has been shifted all over the shop, so will the Minister commit to keeping the situation under review? I think I heard him say that he had an open door for anyone who needed help. That is a good thing, and I welcome it. In relation to that, he has explained that these funds are in response to the cancellation of the very slow piloted return of spectators that we were expecting from 1 October. We had an extensive debate on this only last week in Westminster Hall, so can the Minister bring us up to date on that? What is the truth of the rumours that spectators will return, but only in line with the as yet unannounced tier system? There are also rumours concerning the number of spectators. Is it true that the cap will be 1,000 people? While we are on the subject of Members’ concerns, we have another Westminster Hall debate coming up next week on the governance of football, and I expect to see many Members there. If the Minister cannot give us full details of the fan-led review of football at the Dispatch Box today, I suggest that he does so next Wednesday.

Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, I know it will not have escaped your notice that the Government started this crisis accusing premier league footballers of not doing their share, and ended the summer U-turning on child poverty in response to the heroic campaigning of a premier league footballer. That should be a lesson to the Government. Sports people have been messed about month after month, and the British people want better. My final question to the Minister is this: in the face of a deadly virus, nothing matters more than public health, so where is the comprehensive plan for wellbeing right across the UK? This funding announcement today is a panicked response to a bad situation made worse by Government incompetence, and the country deserves better.