During Portfolio Questions this afternoon, I asked the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, Joe Fitzpatrick, what advice, guidance and financial assistance is being provided to professional football clubs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Scottish Labour Leader, Richard Leonard, last week repeated his call for a ‘Scottish Football Aid Fund’ to be launched following redundancies in the game caused by the catastrophic impact of the pandemic. Mr Leonard called on Ministers to step in with urgent financial support as the loss of matchday revenue caused by the ban on crowds is having dire implications for clubs.
The Minister responded to me today that the Scottish Government has been working with football authorities and he recognised the relative reliance on gate receipts for clubs in Scotland compared to clubs elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and in recognising this he has written again today to the UK Sports Minister seeking clarity on the financial package being developed to support sporting organisations reliant on fans being able to return to stadia.
Professional clubs are facing the perfect storm of very few, or no, fans allowed to attend football matches due to the pandemic. The loss of match day revenue from gate sales and hospitality, coupled with clubs having to spend extra on PPE and testing to comply with COVID regulations, is having a significant impact on clubs throughout the country.
Many are already in a precarious financial position and it is well known that banks are generally uncomfortable lending to football clubs, as such, many clubs don’t have overdrafts to fall back on. Even government schemes like CBIL (COVID Business Interruption Loan) are ruled out for many clubs as they have to be able to prove they were financially viable before the outbreak.
This will lead to the demise of football clubs throughout the country unless government starts to support them. A football club is more than just a business, it is part of the very fabric of life in our towns and cities. Clubs do large amounts to promote health and wellbeing and they do great charity work across the country.
It will be an absolute tragedy if we lose any of our football clubs. Some have been established for over a century or more so I had no qualms in pressing the Scottish Government to look again to see what support clubs can be given.
As a member of the Health and Sport Committee, this week I secured the support of that committee to look into the plight of clubs. I was delighted when the Committee backed my calls for an inquiry into support for our clubs and I hope the Scottish Government and the UK government will ensure financial help is granted for Scottish clubs at all levels as a matter of high priority.