£16m emergency loan will 'enable rugby league to survive'

Rugby league is to receive a £16m emergency loan from the government to help the cash-strapped sport through the coronavirus crisis.

Friday, 1st May 2020, 12:01 am
Like all clubs, Castleford Tigers rely heavily on matchday income. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

The Rugby Football League (RFL) will administer the funding, in partnership with Sport England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

All English-based Super League, Championship and League One clubs are eligible to apply.

Both the RFL and Super League have welcomed the government’s intervention, which was announced on Friday.

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A crowded South Stand at Emerald Headingley. Social distancing has prevented scenes like this for more than six weeks. Picture by Steve Riding

Rugby league clubs in all three professional divisions have been facing mounting financial worries since the sport was suspended midway through March.

With no resumption in sight – and a possibility matches could be played behind closed doors when rugby does resume – there have been fears some clubs may not survive.

Top-flight sides including Leeds Rhinos, Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity have furloughed players and staff under a government job protection scheme scheme which guarantees 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500 per month.

Wage cuts have also been imposed.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, described the loan as a “massive shot in the arm to secure the survival of rugby league”.

He said: “We recognise that many RFL clubs operate on very tight financial margins. Without their ability to stage matches with spectators and despite the government’s extensive economic package, the professional game has come very close to collapsing.

“From my first sports visit as Secretary of State to Leigh Centurions, I could see how important these clubs are to the communities they serve. They are the beating heart of their towns and cities and their impact goes far beyond what happens on the pitch.

“Sports across the board are facing unprecedented pressures and we are supporting them through wider government measures.

“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.”

The government’s manifesto at last December’s general election included a commitment to delivering a successful World Cup tournament in 2021.

Details of when and how the loan will be repaired have not been confirmed.

Information on when the fund will open and how clubs can apply will be announced by the RFL “in due course”.

The measure has been welcomed by RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer.

He said: “The RFL is grateful to the government for understanding and acting on the case for the whole sport.

“In these very tough times for the country and huge demands on government, this is confirmation of why rugby league is important – our USP – the sport’s significant social impact in northern communities in particular.

“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.

“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 – and to look to a home World Cup next year and a legacy for our communities.”

Rimmer added: “Watching and playing sport together, including rugby league, has a role to play in the nation’s recovery.

“We are part of that national sporting landscape. In the meantime, we continue to work at the heart of our communities, helping wherever we can.”

Super League's executive chairman Robert Elstone described the current crisis as "the most challenging time in our 125-year history" and hailed the government's "critical and invaluable support".

He said: "For many people, particularly in the north of England, rugby league is more than a sport:.

"Our clubs are key employers and play an essential role in local economies; they are also vital social hubs where families bond and communities stand proudly together.

"This pledge by the government is indicative of the unique role Super League clubs play in those communities.

"Throughout this pandemic Super League and the governing body, the RFL, have been united in consistently putting forward that message and we are delighted it has been heard loud and clear at such an important time.

"The game is grateful that the government has backed up promises it made to the north of England at the general election."

Elstone feels the loan will calms nerves across the competition, but admitted Super League is not yet out of the woods..

"Super League has had to make many difficult decisions over the past few weeks responding to the outbreak of Covid-19," he said.

"Clearly those decisions were exacerbated by the absence of any clarity on what lies ahead.

“This news will alleviate some of those concerns and provide much-needed certainty about the future.

"Super League would like to acknowledge the tireless work of the RFL in securing such vital support.

“Make no mistake, a challenging period still lies ahead and public safety and the protection of our communities remains our priority, but, at a tough time, the game has had a good day.

“We can now look forward with more confidence, while we continue to play our part in the country's recovery."

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