Bail-out has to hap­pen – it will put top clubs on the right side of his­tory

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport / Covid Crisis - Ja­son Burt C hief Football Cor­re­spon­dent

While it un­der­stand­ably sticks in the craw for Premier League clubs to be lec­tured by a gov­ern­ment that has so ev­i­dently mis­man­aged the re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, there was a phrase that emerged dur­ing the height of the cri­sis that res­onates again now: “Be on the right side of his­tory.”

As things stand, his­tory may well show that a num­ber of football clubs went to the wall in the com­ing months even though the sport re­mains the rich­est in the world and the Premier League is at its pin­na­cle. In years to come, we may look back and won­der why that was ever al­lowed to hap­pen.

At least now it seems that those who run football will step in to help each other out, with the ex­pec­ta­tion that the Premier League will agree a fi­nan­cial pack­age to sup­port the English Football League. Gov­ern­ment aid is needed for other sports, not pro­fes­sional football. It should be able to look af­ter it­self.

There was logic in Sean Dy­che’s ar­gu­ment that there is no out­cry for ev­ery suc­cess­ful hedge fund man­ager to sup­port those less suc­cess­ful and so “if you are go­ing to ap­ply it to football, I think you have to ap­ply it across the coun­try to ev­ery­one and ev­ery busi­ness”.

But, with­out be­ing too ro­man­tic, football – which, by the way, al­ready pays £3.3 bil­lion in tax ev­ery year – is not like ev­ery other busi­ness, and the Burn­ley man­ager knows that all too well.

And just be­cause oth­ers are not do­ing the right thing, does it mean you should not? That is where Dy­che’s ar­gu­ment fails.

A football club is more than a busi­ness, even though it needs to be run on busi­ness lines. It is a club; an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is sup­ported by peo­ple with a com­mon pur­pose. And that pur­pose should not be fi­nan­cial. It is a dif­fer­ent kind of in­sti­tu­tion.

The de­tails are yet to be seen and could be cru­cial. The is­sue will be dis­cussed at an EFL meet­ing next Wed­nes­day, the day be­fore the Premier League’s lat­est get­to­gether, but the re­quested bailout of up to £250 mil­lion has to be met. A loan, in truth, is no good. It has to be hard cash.

There should be some con­di­tions at­tached. Firstly, there needs to be proper ac­count­abil­ity for any pay­ments made, with the EFL clubs each pro­duc­ing clear busi­ness plans as to why they need the money, how it will be used and why they do not have other means to cover their losses.

In­deed, it seems that will be de­manded as the money will only re­place lost ticket rev­enue.

Se­condly, the Gov­ern­ment needs to re­main open to dis­cuss with the Premier League how it can lead the way for fans to re­turn. The Premier League has be­come frus­trated by the blan­ket ban on them when it has the tech­nol­ogy and the where­withal to be at the van­guard, just as it led the way with test­ing and cre­at­ing biose­cure bub­bles for sport to take place.

With­out be­ing ro­man­tic, football is not like other in­dus­tries – this is where Dy­che’s ar­gu­ment fails

Premier League clubs in­sist fans can be safer in sta­di­ums than they are in pubs, and they should be al­lowed to test the truth in that, be­cause it might just help out other in­dus­tries. If it means some fans are at­tend­ing Premier League games but not EFL matches, then so be it – that would gen­er­ate a de­gree of rev­enue that can ben­e­fit all.

As we head to­wards a sec­ond spike of Covid-19 then it may be po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult to ar­gue that some form of football crowds can re­turn, but it can be done with op­tions such as clin­i­cal pass­ports.

If the Premier League be­lieves it can achieve it, then let it try as a con­di­tion of pro­vid­ing more fund­ing and for the gen­eral good.

What is a re­lief is the Premier League does ap­pear ready to help out. It needs to do this so that when, in the fu­ture, what hap­pened in 2020 is de­bated it can say: “Never mind what hedge fund man­agers and politi­cians did – we did the right thing.”

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