RUGBY LEAGUE will get a £16million Government bailout package to save the sport from being destroyed by coronavirus.
As SunSport first revealed last month, the emergency funds are designed to support grassroots clubs — but support will also be given to the professional level of the game, whose sponsorship income is dwarfed by other sports.
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Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay, a former player and keen rugby league fan, said the money will throw a lifeline to scores of clubs threatened with closure.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rescue deal will be available in the form of interest-free loans from Sport England and are designed to help clubs get back on their feet after weeks of lost revenue following the coronavirus lockdown.
The cash injection is a major boost as England prepares to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup — and comes amid dire warnings that the Covid-19 shutdown could wipeout the sport.
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer claimed the pandemic threatens the very existence of the game, while Hull KR owner Neil Hudgell said rugby league could “cease to exist” as a full-time sport.
Treasury insiders revealed Lancashire-born Mr Barclay had personally championed the sport in government and ensured it was handed the money it needs to survive.
Mr Barclay told The Sun: “This is a bruising and brilliant sport, sadly brought to its knees by Covid-19.
“Rugby League is close to my heart and to communities across the north.
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“This money will provide the lifeline it needs to save the game from collapse and bring rugby home when we proudly stage the World Cup here next year.”
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, added: “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.
“I know 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.
“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.”
Rimmer said: “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.”