Elite sport must find a way to support itself, says minister Nigel Huddleston

By Laura ScottBBC Sport
How long can football clubs survive without the return of fans in the stadium?

Elite sport will be expected to "look at ways in which it can support itself" through financial difficulties arising from the absence of fans, the UK sports minister has told Parliament.

Nigel Huddleston said the government understood the recent restrictions put in place would "cause financial difficulties" to sports, but that the focus would be directed to "those most in need".

Major governing bodies have warned of "profound" and "severe" consequences from the loss of matchday revenue.

The Premier League said clubs are losing £100m per month, the Rugby Football Union said it could lose £60m if there are no fans at the autumn internationals and Six Nations, and the England and Wales Cricket Board said it has already lost £100m because of coronavirus.

Premiership Rugby, which runs rugby union's top domestic competition in England, warned that the lack of supporters had the potential to cause "irreparable damage" to clubs and communities.

English Football League chairman Rick Parry told BBC Sport on Wednesday that he was "expecting" some sort of financial help from the government.

Sports Minister Huddleston also confirmed that non-elite sports, including football below National Leagues North and South, will be able to continue allowing spectators.

Meanwhile, the first meeting took place of an expert taskforce chaired by Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross and set up to explore "high-tech solutions" that would allow elite sports grounds to reopen.

The Sports Technology and Innovation Group is made up of sport, health and technology experts including the Premier League chair Gary Hoffman, and will be looking at the whole 'fan journey' from home to stadiums.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said its aim was to work through "innovative ideas and technology which could help get fans back where they belong, in stadia and grounds, more quickly".

Earlier, Damian Collins MP told the House of Commons that clubs were facing financial ruin, and asked what "guarantee" Huddleston could provide to Football League clubs, in light of the £1.5bn offered to arts organisations.

"We are in discussions with major sports, including football bodies," Huddleston said.

"Yesterday I wrote to the governing bodies of all major spectator sports to formally begin discussions and provide them with a contact point.

"I also asked the governing bodies to provide me with details of any member clubs or associations under imminent financial threat and we will be providing more information in due course."

He added: "We recognise the impact of the decisions this week to delay the reopening of stadia over the winter will have on sport.

"The government now will work at pace with sports to understand the issues faced by organisations facing the most challenging circumstances and assess what further support may be required."

Elite sports have been warned that they may be unable to have fans back for six months.

Huddleston said he was "unable" to give any prospective target dates for the return of fans, because of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

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