Crowds could be back inside sports venues by Christmas, the Culture Secretary has hinted.
It came as ministers confirmed that a combined £300million cash injection to 11 sports hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Oliver Dowden hinted at the return of spectators to venues by Christmas in an interview with talkSPORT.
“There is definitely a chance of it,” he said.
“We are in close discussions with the centre of Government about what we could do as we go back into the tiering system.
“There’s a possibility in the lowest-risk areas to open the door ajar a little bit, start to prove in the lowest-risk areas that we could make this work then I’d love for us to be able to do that.”
He said mass, rapid testing would play a part in reopening venues.
“I think there’s a real opportunity to incentivise people to take the Covid test by saying ‘if you take the Covid test, and you’re in the clear, then you can go safely into stadiums and watch matches’,” he added.
The bailout cash announced comes after spectator sports have suffered as a result of the continued absence of fans from venues and after pledging its support, the Government has now outlined the scope of the backing it will provide.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said that the Government’s overall economic package had provided “a significant buffer”.
But he added: “It is absolutely right that we now intervene to protect entire sports, and the communities they support, as we navigate this pandemic.”
Mr Huddleston added that the majority of the cash would be through “low interest” loans.
And that the support package was the biggest in the world.
Rugby union will receive the biggest single amount – £135m. Of that, £44m will go to the Rugby Football Union, £59m to Premiership Rugby clubs, £9m to clubs in the Championship and £23m to clubs below the Championship.
Horse racing will receive £40million to support racecourses unable to welcome visitors.
Football’s National League at steps one and two – which has already benefited from £10m in National Lottery funding to assist through to the end of 2020 – will receive a further £11m to cover the period between January and the end of March.
Steps three to six of the pyramid will receive £14m, while the Women’s Super League and Championship have been awarded £3m.
The Rugby Football League will benefit to the tune of a further £12m, topping up the £16m announced in May to safeguard rugby league’s future.
Owners and operators of major motorsports circuits will receive a combined £6m, the Lawn Tennis Association will get £5m and England Netball will receive £2m.
Basketball, ice hockey, badminton and greyhound racing’s losses have been covered to the tune of a combined £11m.
The package does not cover men’s professional football, despite the well-documented financial difficulties of EFL clubs.
That is because the Government expects the Premier League to provide financial support. Negotiations continue over a rescue package from the top flight to support the 72 clubs in the three divisions below.
Cricket is not included in Thursday’s announcement. It is understood that is because the ‘Winter Survival Package’ is focused on sports which should be welcoming in spectators right now.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “Over the past few weeks we have worked tirelessly with sport governing bodies and clubs across the country to fully assess what support is needed, as a result of the decision to postpone the return of fans.
“We know the vast majority of sports – many of which operate on tight financial margins – have been making serious cost reductions, such as locking down grounds, taking up the furlough scheme for many staff and halting excess payments.
“Whilst the Government’s overall economic package has provided a significant buffer, it is absolutely right that we now intervene to protect entire sports, and the communities they support, as we navigate this pandemic.”
Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth welcomed the move.
He said: “These are unprecedented times for our sector and those sports and leagues that rely so heavily on spectators for their income that have been especially impacted by the pandemic.
“The role they play in their local communities is vital and this package of support from Government will be hugely welcomed.
“Alongside our wider support for grassroots and community sport, Sport England is working very closely with Government colleagues on the design of this fund and we look forward to playing a key role in its successful and swift delivery.”