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
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.”