Coventry City has hit out at the government after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a £300 million rescue package for sports affected by a ban on spectators, but ignored the EFL.
Football league clubs are furious with government over what they see as a lack of support and double standards after ministers banned them – and other sports – from allowing fans back into grounds over coronavirus fears.
Clubs have sunk further and further into debt, while audiences returned to theatres, cinemas and other venues, before the latest national lockdown closed all outlets in November.
Coventry City chief executive Dave Boddy feels government has abandoned football
Boddy (left) has given a passionate response to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s plans
The government approach over spectators has hit professional sport hard, but now there is at least some relief for other disciplines, including rugby, which will receive £135m.
Announcing the Winter Sports Survival Package on Thursday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘We promised to stand by sports when we had to postpone fans returning. We are doing just that by delivering another £300 million on top of existing business support schemes.’
But those words prompted a passionate response from Dave Boddy, chief executive at Championship club, Coventry City.
‘The evidence shows that the government is not doing everything that it can and instead is putting its head in the sand and hoping for the Premier League to provide the support for the EFL Clubs instead.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insists the Premier League must support the EFL
‘Coventry City believes this is wrong, and the Government should treat football as it is treating other sports and provide the support to ensure it survives during this crisis and while the Government does not allow fans to return.
‘The nation’s sport is football and it is being left to fend for itself, despite it being the most significant sport in this country for its economic, social and community impact and the number of supporters it would normally have going through turnstiles.’
The government backtracked on a pledge to pilot a return of fans in October as infection rates rose, concerned by the number of football matches and the volume of spectators, compared to other events.
And it has insisted that high-level professional football has the resources to look after itself and has refused to step in to bail out the EFL.
Ministers believe the Premier League and EFL should reach an agreement over a bail out, a point reinforced by the Digital Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Friday, which wrote to the both organisations urging them to stop ‘squabbling’.
Doddy is disappointed that a £300m rescue package for sport did not include the EFL
So far, no deal between the Premier League and EFL has been agreed.
The latest proposal was to provide £20m in grants and £30m in loans for League One and Two clubs, but the EFL has pushed back fearful of taking on more debt and asked for £50m in one pot of grants.
The solution for Championship clubs is less clear, but the Premier League suggested last week that it would provide a £200m loan facility repayable from the annual solidarity payments.
Sportsmail understands that these proposals may be broadly acceptable to government, but negotiations continue.
QPR chairman Lee Hoos has highlighted the good work football does in local communities
Meanwhile, there is anger within the game with ministers accused of overlooking the national sport and a belief that the politicians at DCMS and those in the cabinet do not understand the value of football to local communities.
‘The Premier League and the EFL are watched and enjoyed by billions of fans around the world, a great advert for our game and our country,’ added Boddy. ‘Now, when football is in need, it is being abandoned by the Government.’
The Premier League, and many EFL clubs, feel ministers have not properly acknowledged the level of support the top-tier already provides.
The Premier League has offered a mixture of loans and grants to support Leagues One and Two
The EFL has introduced a £50m emergency loan fund for clubs on the edge of administration
The Premier League points out that last year, the total payments from the top tier to the EFL amounted to £409m, which includes parachute money, contributions to community schemes, for relegated clubs and funds for academies among other items.
Included in that sum are solidarity payments totalling £140m to EFL clubs, including £4.65m each year to Championship sides.
It also needles football clubs that they do a lot of work for their local areas and feel government does not factor this into its considerations.
Sportsmail reported on Friday that EFL clubs have delivered 640,000 meals and food parcels to people needing help during the pandemic.
Premier League sides have been busy too, supporting hundreds of thousands of people with meals, through community activities and fitness programmes, distributing PPE and calling isolated people.
Rick Parry, chairman of the EFL ( left) and the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters (right) appeared before MPs on the DCMS Select Committee last week
‘We are the first people to be asked to help out and the last to be offered any support,’ Lee Hoos, chief executive of Queens Park Rangers told Sportsmail, neatly summing up a common view among chief execuitves and owners.
However, ministers feelhave supported elite football. Sports minister Nigel Huddlestone told Parliament on Thursday that the total spending on football amounted to £1.5 billion when furlough and other support schemes were taken into account.
And MPs on the DCMS committee, which interviewed both Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and EFL chairman Rick Parry last week, has lashed out at both organisations over the ongoing financial crisis.
Chairman of the DCMS select committee Julian Knight has written to Parry and Masters
The committee chairman, MP Julian Knight, wrote to Parry and Masters in stark terms accusing the organisations of ‘squabbling’ and lacking leadership.
‘We are disappointed that you have not yet come to an agreement that will ensure the survival of football clubs through the current pandemic,’ said Knight.
‘There is enough money in the game to save football clubs but we are beginning to doubt whether there is enough leadership to make that happen. We urge you to stop squabbling and come to an agreement.’
‘Fans have been waiting too long. We expect, and the fans deserve, better.