Sport on brink of fi­nan­cial col­lapse

Fears grow that sec­ond wave of Covid will force clubs to fold Ori­ent’s cup tie with Spurs in doubt af­ter play­ers test pos­i­tive

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tom Mor­gan, Ben Rumsby, Jeremy Wil­son, Matt Law and Ben Coles

Bri­tish sport was on the brink of fi­nan­cial im­plo­sion last night af­ter govern­ment fore­casts of a dev­as­tat­ing Covid-19 sec­ond wave raised fears that com­pe­ti­tions and clubs would be fold­ing within weeks.

The Pre­mier League, Rugby FootPremie­r ball Union and Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board are among more than 100 na­tional and grass-roots gov­ern­ing bod­ies to sign a let­ter plead­ing with the Prime Min­is­ter for a ma­jor bailout as the pan­demic tight­ens its grip again.

Lower-league foot­ball clubs, mean­while, told The Daily Tele­graph they were run­ning out of time in their bid for sup­port from the top tier while White­hall edges closer to in­tro­duc­ing tough new curbs.

On another day of sport­ing set­backs, it also emerged that:

◆ Ley­ton Ori­ent’s Carabao Cup tie against Tot­ten­ham was likely to be called off af­ter a Covid out­break in­volv­ing seven play­ers. There were fears that other matches could fol­low suit as in­fec­tion rates in­crease.

◆ The re­turn of fans to all venues from Oct 1 looks doomed, with sports braced for six months be­hind closed doors or with mi­nus­cule crowds. White­hall sources told The

Tele­graph the sit­u­a­tion for the sec­tor was “in­creas­ingly con­cern­ing”.

◆ Girls’ and women’s foot­ball is at risk of be­ing set back a decade, ac­cord­ing to UK Coach­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Gannon, who in­sists ac­tion must be taken to en­sure the num­ber of coaches is not al­lowed to dwin­dle as clubs and fa­cil­i­ties count the cost of lock­down.

◆ Fears are mount­ing that com­pet­i­tive grass-roots sports could even­tu­ally be scaled back af­ter Boris John­son an­nounces new lock­down rules to­day.

Planned spec­ta­tor pi­lots – in­clud­ing rac­ing at New­mar­ket and the non-League fi­nals at Wem­b­ley – ap­peared in most doubt last night af­ter se­nior govern­ment ad­vis­ers Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Pa­trick

Val­lance laid the ground­work for a sec­ond lock­down.

Min­is­ters are al­ready un­der pres­sure from sport to match the sup­port pack­ages, to­talling £1.57bil­lion, re­ceived by the arts and res­tau­rant sec­tors. The sport­ing sec­tor has a work­force of more than 600,000.

Many of the na­tion’s gov­ern­ing bod­ies yes­ter­day signed a joint let­ter urg­ing John­son “to ring-fence fund­ing for the re­cov­ery of the sports and ac­tiv­ity sec­tor – or risk fu­elling phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity and re­lated ill­nesses for a gen­er­a­tion”.

As in­fec­tion rates surge to their

high­est rates since the first peak in the spring, Ley­ton Ori­ent be­came the first club af­fected to have their play­ing plans se­verely dis­rupted by the sec­ond wave. Seven play­ers ini­tially tested pos­i­tive, with other staff mem­bers await­ing re­sults of tests as the club closed their sta­dium and train­ing ground. Mans­field, Ori­ent’s op­po­nents at the week­end, were also be­ing tested. White­hall sources told The Tele­graph that elite com­pe­ti­tion be­hind closed doors was poised to con­tinue re­gard­less of John­son’s an­nounce­ment to­day. How­ever, the Oct 1 re­turn of crowds is highly un­likely, and one se­nior fig­ure in Bri­tish sport said he feared new lim­its for the pub­lic play­ing sport again. “It’s a pos­si­bil­ity,” the fig­ure said, adding that “grass-roots sport was fac­ing con­sid­er­able dif­fi­culty”.

Lead­ing fig­ures in lower league foot­ball and across rugby said clubs were al­ready on the verge of go­ing out of busi­ness. The di­min­ish­ing like­li­hood of get­ting crowds back was de­scribed as a “night­mare” by Andy Holt, the Ac­cring­ton Stan­ley chair­man. He said that League One and League Two were in “limbo” as the Pre­mier League had given no guar­an­tees that it would pro­vide a £200mil­lion bail-out, which had been first mooted weeks ago.

“Ev­ery time it’s been ‘it’s com­ing, it’s com­ing’ – we’re just be­ing dan­gled along,” he said. “Man­ag­ing a club now is im­pos­si­ble with­out key bits of in­for­ma­tion.”

Holt’s con­cerns over de­lays in get­ting crowds back next month were mir­rored by teams in rugby’s Gal­lagher Premier­ship. “We need to put some bums on seats,” Tony Rowe, chair­man at Ex­eter Chiefs, said. “The prob­lem is that most clubs – and we’re no dif­fer­ent with a ca­pac­ity just un­der 14,000 – our ‘break even’ is about 10,000. We will still all be los­ing money, just not as much and it will help us hang on a lit­tle bit longer. That is the prob­lem – when will we run out of money? I am sur­prised in the Premier­ship that we have not had the demise of any clubs so far.”

Seven English Foot­ball League clubs held crowd pi­lots over the week­end for 1,000 spec­ta­tors, and there were about 400 for the rac­ing at War­wick yes­ter­day. New­mar­ket was un­der­stood to be in con­tact with the Depart­ment for Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport about plans to open its gates on Thurs­day.

In other de­vel­op­ments, UK Coach­ing be­came the lat­est or­gan­i­sa­tion to warn of the long-term im­pacts on sport. Gannon, whose or­gan­i­sa­tion is work­ing with the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion to en­cour­age more women and girls to get in­volved in the game, said: “The big­gest fear is that this pushes us back 10 years. We had such mo­men­tum lead­ing into the pan­demic.”

The let­ter from sport to the Govern­ment, mean­while, cites the need for sup­port pro­grammes and fa­cil­i­ties that ad­dress the health in­equal­i­ties among women, lower so­cio-eco­nomic groups, mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Huw Ed­wards, chief ex­ec­u­tive of UKAc­tive, said: “Our sec­tor can play a vi­tal role in sup­port­ing our NHS by restor­ing the na­tion’s phys­i­cal and men­tal re­silience.”

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