‘Patience running out’ with football as government announces £300 million survival package

  • Words by ITV News Sports Producer Dan Salisbury-Jones

The Sports Minister has told ITV News "patience is running out" with football, as it struggles to reach a deal over a rescue package for EFL clubs. 

The government on Thursday announced a £300 million survival package for sports lacking crowds due to Covid-19 restrictions, but it believes the higher end of English football can look after itself.

The Premier League and EFL have an agreement in principle to help League One and League Two clubs, but the terms of that deal are still to be confirmed.

Nigel Huddleston MP told ITV News: "Patience is running out.

"I get that in my mail bag, as a Sports Minister and of course there is a deal on the table but it was rejected so what we need is them both to come together again, compromise and come to a deal very, very soon because it’s pivotal for the high end of sport, particularly League One and League Two that we get a settlement. 

"The good thing is the Premier League have made a promise and commitment that they won’t let any clubs go under.

"We’ve got that but it would be a lot better if we could get a deal and we can all move on." 

Rugby Union was the big winner in Thursday's government announcement - with £135 million promised to help it survive the winter.

2019 Rugby Six Nations winners Wales. Credit: PA Images

The "survival package," is mostly made of up of loans and will benefit 11 sports in total.

Horseracing, rugby league, motorsport, tennis, netball, basketball, ice hockey, badminton and greyhound racing are all beneficiaries. 

Football will also get a £28 million boost to help non-league clubs and the Women’s Super League and Championship. 

Mr Huddleston said: "It’s based really on the very difficult decision we had to make in October not to allow fans back into stadia and that had huge financial consequences for many sports.

"Today what we’ve said is we’re going to be giving money in the mix of loans and grants to a variety of sports to help them get through the winter period."

If sports are to have any hope of paying these loans back they will need fans back through the turnstiles. I asked the minister if it was realistic for this to begin before Christmas.

"There is a chance," he said.

"There is a chance of lots of things because we’ve seen things can move very quickly but the decision will be made on the basis of health conditions, the infection rate at the time and I think everybody in the country understands that. 

 "So if it’s going in the right direction we can be confident we can open up again and then we can start moving in that direction but of course if it doesn’t, of course everyone will also understand that we’re not able to do things that we would like to do because we can’t put the public’s health at risk."

Grassroots sport is one of the things effectively banned in England’s current coronavirus lockdown - and there is growing concern about the survival of clubs and groups.

Football stadiums have been closed to fans during the Covid pandemic. Credit: PA

The Minister insists it remains a priority: "Sport England has spent £220m on helping grassroots so this £300m package is for more professional sides of sport.

"We want to open up grassroots as soon as it’s safe to do so as well. So at all levels everybody is really super keen to get sport back as soon as possible. We’re sports mad in this country, we all love our sport but it needs to be when it’s safe to do so."

That "sports-mad" public could yet enjoy a full European Championships next summer if UEFA deems it unwise to host it in cities all over the continent.

London and Glasgow are already among the host cities and Mr Huddleston said the UK is open to the idea of taking on the whole tournament. 

He said: "These are early stage decisions to be made. We all want it to go ahead as currently planned actually if we can but obviously they’ve got to decide alternative scenarios and the UK stands ready to help if it gets to that but we’re not there yet. 

"I think we’re all hoping that we can get back to sport as originally planned as soon as possible. We’ll see that with the Olympics, we’ll see that with football and all sports but the UK is always open to ideas and always stands ready to help. 

"I can’t comment on any discussions, we really do want to make sure that we stick to plan a and that it continues as originally planned but nobody has a crystal ball, we don’t know where things go so one day at a time."