LONDON (Reuters) - The British government has announced a 16 million-pound cash injection into the Rugby Football League (RFL) as the sport struggles to cope with the financial fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic.
No matches in the Super League or lower tiers have been held since mid-March and with no likelihood of an early return, clubs have become increasingly fearful about their futures.
A statement from the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) said the emergency loan would “safeguard the immediate future of the sport” and prevent clubs collapsing.
“This is a massive shot in the arm to secure the survival of Rugby League,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said.
“We recognise that many RFL clubs operate on very tight financial margins. Without their ability to stage matches with fans despite the Government’s extensive economic package, the professional game has come very close to collapsing.”
England is due to host the Rugby League World Cup next year for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair games.
“Sports across the board are facing unprecedented pressures, and we are supporting them through wider Government measures,” Dowden said.
“In this case we are intervening as an exception, not to save an individual business or organisation, but to protect an entire sport, the community it supports, the World Cup held here next year and its legacy for generations to come.”
RFL chief Ralph Rimmer said the clubs played a vital role in their communities, particularly in the north of England.
“Rugby League is not a wealthy sport but is rich in the things that matter most — outstanding sporting and life chances in often disadvantaged communities,” he said.
“The effects of lockdown at the start of our season genuinely threatened the survival of our clubs at all levels and their ability to continue delivering those positive social and economic impacts. This support enables the sport to survive, to reshape and to be ready to restart in this our 125th year.”
The men’s and women’s World Cup finals will be staged at Old Trafford, Manchester, with the wheelchair final at Anfield, Liverpool.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond