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Sports chiefs unite to express concern over 'grossly unfair' exclusion from government scheme



Irish FA president Patrick Nelson

Irish FA president Patrick Nelson

�William Cherry / Presseye

Brian McEvoy of Ulster GAA

Brian McEvoy of Ulster GAA

�INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

Irish FA president Patrick Nelson

Sports chiefs have sent a joint letter to the Economy and Finance Ministers expressing their concerns about the sport sector amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter, which was signed by the heads of the Irish FA, Ulster Rugby, Ulster GAA and the NI Sports Forum, detailed sports clubs' fears that they will not be able to survive the crisis.

A number of Irish League clubs and Ulster Rugby have already placed players and staff on the furlough scheme, while the chairperson of the GAA's Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee warned that there may be no Gaelic games in 2020.

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry previously stated that he believes every Irish League club will eventually put their players and staff on the government's furlough scheme.

Sports clubs and organisations are currently eligible for the £25,000 Hospitality, Tourism and Retail Sectors Grant Scheme.

Writing to the Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Finance Minister Conor Murphy, Ciaran Kearney (NI Sports Forum), Patrick Nelson (Irish FA), Brian McAvoy (Ulster GAA) and Jonny Petrie (Ulster Rugby) noted that clubs were ineligible for the Small Business Grant Scheme.

The scheme allows businesses to apply for £10,000 but sports clubs in receipt of Sport and Recreation relief cannot apply.

"Sports clubs are significant employers and through competitions and events, they also contribute significantly to the Northern Ireland economy," wrote the sports bosses.

"Whilst the extension of the Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Scheme is very welcome, the majority of sports clubs fit within the Small Business Grant Scheme and we believe their current exclusion will have a hugely detrimental impact on our sector.

"We believe it is contradictory to include sport in one scheme from the Department for Economy and exclude smaller community clubs from another.

"We have heard from many clubs across our respective sports who are concerned about whether they will be able to survive this pandemic.

"With physical activity and positive mental health becoming so important at this time, we are concerned that many sports clubs are facing closure whilst others may not be able to adequately meet the needs of their members and the public as we return to activity."

The sports bosses stated that in England, Scotland and Wales, sports clubs with a NAV level of under the threshold for the Hospitality, Tourism and Retails Sectors Grant Scheme can apply for a £10,000 relief grant.

Describing this as "grossly unfair", they urged the ministers to remove the exclusion.

The bosses also asked that the Department for the Economy and the Department of Finance to consider a Business Rates Relief Scheme for those businesses with a NAV in excess of £51,000.

"Many of our larger clubs fit into this category, but like the rest of the sporting sector, they have seen their businesses plummet due to no fixtures taking place and other sources of income being significantly impacted," they added.

"We are also aware that the Finance Minister is currently considering a targeted approach to extending rates for a period of 12 months.

"We believe that the sporting community should be included in any extension due to the ongoing challenges our sector will face, and that this would recognise the vital role sport will play over the coming months and years ahead."

On Saturday it was revealed that the Irish FA would receive a cash boost from Fifa to help survive the Covid-19 crisis.

The game's world governing body said each of their 211 member countries would receive €500,000 (£405,124) plus any entitlement under the Forward 2.0 development programme.

It was confirmed on Friday that the Irish FA had extended their suspension of football in Northern Ireland until May 31 at the earliest.

Belfast Telegraph