Government pledges £16m to ‘protect an entire sport’

The Rugby Football League (RFL) will receive a £16m cash injection to safeguard the immediate future of the sport – founded in Huddersfield in 1895 – for the communities it serves, the Government has announced.

The emergency loan will help the sport deal with the extreme financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak while the season remains suspended, due to social distancing measures.

The support follows clubs furloughing players –  a reasonable of proportion of which whose salaries are below the Government’s £30,000 cap.

The decision also comes ahead of England hosting the Rugby League World Cup next year, which will see the men’s, women’s and wheelchair games come together for a world first on the sport’s biggest stage.

The Government’s manifesto included a commitment to delivering a successful tournament, with significant financial support already provided.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said:“This is a massive shot in the arm to secure the survival of Rugby League.

“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.

“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.

“Many Rugby League clubs have well-established charitable programmes in their communities, and have adapted these to help the vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Hull FC have delivered food parcels to elderly people who are self-isolating.”

Ralph Rimmer, chief executive of the Rugby Football League, 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.”

The RFL will administer the funding, in partnership with Sport England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. All RFL Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs based in England are eligible to apply.

With the Rugby League World Cup scheduled to take place between 23 October – 27 November 2021 at Yorkshire venues including Doncaster, Hull, Kirklees, Leeds, Sheffield  and York.