Welsh government unveils £17.7m rescue package for sport in Wales – BBC Sport

Wales v France in the Six Nations in February 2020 was the last time the Principality Stadium was full
Wales v France in the Six Nations in February 2020 was the last time the Principality Stadium was full

The Welsh government has provided a £17.7m funding package to help spectator sports in Wales impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The funding of grants is allocated to the sports’ national governing bodies.

Most of the money will go to Welsh rugby with a £13.5m grant, with Welsh football receiving £1.5m.

The rest is divided between horseracing (£1.2m), cricket (£1m), ice hockey (£200,000), rugby league (£200,000) and netball (£100,000).

With no immediate signs of crowds returning, the grants are to provide immediate financial support for spectator sports to help them through until September, with the figures proportionate to the losses suffered by each sport in Wales.

The Welsh government says funding will ensure short-to-medium term survival of sports organisations and clubs financially impacted by the restrictions on spectators at sporting events.

Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the deputy minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “While restrictions on supporters at events have been vital in stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives, there can be no doubt they have created real hardships for many sports clubs, many of whom receive a significant proportion of their income through spectator attendance.

“I know this money will provide some stability to those sports worst affected by the loss of revenue during the pandemic, helping to bridge the financial gap until spectators are able to return safely.”

There had already been £22m worth of funding made available via Sport Wales, although this was aimed primarily below top-tier sport.

There had been calls for more Welsh government support at the elite level, with Cardiff Blues chief executive Richard Holland and Football Association of Wales (FAW) chief executive Jonathan Ford among those to say they needed greater financial help.

Ford said: “Not having crowds at international matches has greatly impacted the FAW’s finances and this funding from the Welsh government will go some way in helping to offset some of this lost revenue.

“Times, however, remain perilous as we are still going to make a significant loss this year as a result of Covid-19. We long for the day our fans can return to supporting our national teams in our stadiums.”

Holland’s criticism came in the wake of the UK government’s announcement in November 2020 that pledged a £300m winter survival package to sport in England, including £135m to rugby union.

Provisionally the Rugby Football Union (RFU) – which governs the sport in England – was set to receive £44m, Premiership Rugby clubs expected to get £59m, Championship clubs £9m and community clubs £23m.

Ireland and Scotland’s rugby authorities have been offered financial packages by their governments. Rugby union in Scotland will receive £20m, £5m in loans and £15m in grants.

Rugby cashflow issues

Rugby received the largest grant because it reflects the losses of the four Welsh professional regions, but the game still needs more assistance.

In addition to the £13.5m, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) will look for further help with chief executive Steve Phillips indicating in December 2020 he was seeking £30m-£40m to cover the whole game in Wales.

The WRU initially negotiated a £20m commercial bank loan to help the regions survive, but Cardiff Blues, Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons must repay that over five years. The WRU will continue conversations with the Welsh Government about “alleviating the challenges of this loan”.

“During a challenging time we have found Welsh Government and Sport Wales accessible, responsive and sympathetic to the plight of our game in Wales,” said Phillips.

“With the ongoing nature of the pandemic, nobody is able to predict with any certainty when crowds will be back into stadia, allowing our income streams to return to normal.

“So this £13.5m grant is timely and hugely helpful.”

The WRU posted a £5.3m loss for the last financial year. The situation is now more precarious with no crowds for the 2021 Six Nations home games against Ireland and England in February.

That £14m projected revenue loss adds to the £21m already suffered in the 2020 autumn internationals, a shortfall of £35m for an organisation that turned over £80m in the last financial year.

Connah's Quay Nomads are the reigning Cymru Premier champions
Connah’s Quay Nomads are the reigning Cymru Premier champions

Those figures indicate why rugby has received more money than football, with the Welsh Government saying amounts were based on a needs assessment for each sport and feedback received from Sport Wales and the governing bodies.

While the WRU is directly linked with funding the regions, the FAW has no financial involvement with football clubs Swansea City, Cardiff City, Newport County and Wrexham.

The Welsh government says the UK government has not supported football clubs at the top tiers of the football league and those clubs in Wales have received funding from other sources and have been treated consistently with their competitors in England.

The support levels also take into account the financial support football clubs in Wales have received from the various leagues and the National Lottery.

In November 2020, it was announced the Cymru Leagues’ 44 clubs were to receive £750,000 of National Lottery funding, with the financial package established by the FAW and facilitated by the UK government.

In April 2020, the Welsh government and Sport Wales launched an £8m sport resilience fund followed by a £14m funding package for the sport and leisure sector.

“We’re committed to providing a responsible and targeted approach to addressing the pandemic’s financial impact,” said Welsh government finance minister Rebecca Evans.

“The support package we have announced takes the funding for this sector to more than £40m since the start of the crisis, helping to provide longer-term stability for a sector that has suffered significant financial loss.”

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