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English sport handed £300 million 'winter survival package'

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government announced a 300 million pounds ($397.11 million) ‘winter survival package’ on Thursday to help sport through the COVID-19 pandemic, with rugby set for the biggest share but nothing for top level soccer and cricket.

FILE PHOTO: Horse Racing - Derby Festival - Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom, Britain - July 4, 2020 Safe Voyage ridden by Jason Hart wins the Investec Surrey Stakes, as racing resumed behind closed doors after the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Bill Selwyn/Pool via REUTERS

The first payments will be made over the coming weeks, mainly as low-interest loans with flexible terms but also through grants.

The money covers sport in England, with other parts of the United Kingdom having separate budgets.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston told parliament it was clear some clubs would go to the wall unless action was taken to protect them.

“We know the decision taken in late September not to reopen stadia from Oct. 1 has had major consequences for sports clubs large and small,” he said.

“Clearly for many organisations not being able to generate gate receipts deprives them of a major source of income.”

Support will be provided to both rugby codes, horse racing, the National League and women’s soccer, motorsport, tennis, netball, basketball, ice hockey, badminton and greyhound racing.

“LOST GENERATION”

More than 100 sports bodies wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September asking for emergency funding and warning of “a lost generation of activity” due to the pandemic.

Preliminary allocations by sport, based on needs assessment, saw rugby union top the list with up to 135 million pounds.

Premiership rugby clubs, who had warned of bankruptcies without state aid, accounted for 59 million and the national Rugby Football Union 44 million.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said the support was “much-needed”. Last July, the RFU projected a short-term revenue loss of 107 million pounds over the closure of Twickenham stadium.

Horse racing will get 40 million pounds to support racecourses closed to spectators, while the National League, which sits below the Football league, and women’s soccer receives 28 million.

Motorsport, which employs more than 40,000 people in Britain, was allocated six million pounds to help operators of circuits like Silverstone.

SURVIVAL PACKAGE

“Today’s provisional allocations aren’t the end of the story. The door is open for any sport to apply where there’s a need and this includes cricket and others who aren’t in the initial list of allocations,” said Huddleston.

“This is a winter survival package,” he added. “It is not meant to be a full pound-for-pound compensation for lost revenue.”

Badminton England chief executive Adrian Christy told the BBC his sport had lost more than 2.2 million pounds in income since the start of the pandemic but the package would help close the gap.

“It ensures the Yonex All-England Championships can take place -- it’s the biggest event on the world tour and a qualification event for the Olympics,” he added.

Swimming was not on the list and Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson said aquatic sports were also in a fight for survival and needed support.

The government has said it expects professional men’s soccer to support itself, with wealthy Premier League clubs enjoying lucrative television deals and considerable sponsorship.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said funding would be overseen by an independent decision-making board supported by Sport England.

($1 = 0.7555 pounds)

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Giles Elgood and Ken Ferris

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