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Government will offer aid to non-league football

The sports minister today confirmed that the Government will intervene to help non-league clubs survive the COVID-19 crisis – but he expects the Premier League to bail out the EFL.

MPs from across the country questioned sports minister Nigel Huddleston today about the fate of clubs in their constituencies after the Government postponed the return of fans to stadia indefinitely.

Huddleston told MPs that the Government is currently putting together a package of financial measures for non-league football that will allow clubs to kick off the season this weekend.

The size of that grant has not been finalised and Huddleston was unable to provide any further details – but the money clubs receive is likely to be based on lost gate receipts and not set amounts decided by level at which they play.

Huddleston told the Commons: “We are working at speed alongside the Treasury with sports governing bodies across the country to understand what support they need as a result of the decision to postpone the 1st October return.

“For football we’re asking the Premier League to support the EFL at the higher end of the pyramid. Yesterday we also provided the National League with assurance that financial support from the Government will be forthcoming so they can start the season this Saturday.

“We have asked for detailed financial returns for all major spectator sports to see what support they need – we expect those returns by the end of today and any club in immediate financial distress should alert their sport’s governing body.

“Sports clubs have had our backs during this pandemic, we will have theirs in return.”

Following a significant rise in COVID-19 infections during September, and local restrictions coming into place, the Government indefinitely postponed the return of supporters to elite football matches.

“I know we all want our fans back in stadia as soon as possible,” Huddleston said. “Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways.

“We did trial the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, however, rising infection rates across the country meant the Government had to act and could not proceed on the 1st October as planned.

“We have to contain the virus and given the backdrop of rising infection rates we had to press the pause button.”

Former-sports minister Tracey Crouch, who tabled the urgent question to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), asked the Government to clarify what support would be available.

Crouch also sought clarity for supporters in non-league, who were unsure if they could or couldn’t attend games against “elite” sides in the FA Cup.

“There are fires raging around the whole sector,” Crouch told the House of Commons. “It’s been difficult to see precisely where the support is coming from.

“The reassurances are welcome, but it is disappointing that there is no detail yet as to when and what the National League will receive.”

Crouch also pushed the Government for more information on the fan-led review into football governance – urging them to bring it forward.

Shadow sports minister Alison McGovern added Labour’s voice, highlighting the crisis facing the football pyramid and cross-party support for the Government’s promised fan-led review.

“We need targeted support, not wasteful initiatives,” she said. “No-one should lose a much-loved sports club just because of this deadly virus.

“We all want this fan-led review of football, it will give everyone confidence.”

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