THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT is facing questions from MSPs over the decision to direct £15million of grant funding from its coronavirus sport-support programme towards rugby and only £10m towards football.
Rugby is set to receive £20m in total, with £5m more being made available as a low-interest loan, while football’s total will reach £30m through a £20m loan. Basketball (£330k in grants), netball (£100k in grants), motor sport (£400k in grants), horse racing (£2m in grants) and ice hockey/ice rinks (£2.2m total in grants) will also receive support.
Lewis Macdonald, chair of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee, has told the Daily Mail newspaper that he expects newly-appointed Sports Minister Mairi Gougeon to explain to his cross-party panel the logic behind this distribution of funds.
“What was striking was that half the grant funding was for rugby – and only a third went to football. That was quite surprising,” said Macdonald, as he outlined the line of questioning his committee had adopted with previous Sports Minister Joe FitzPatrick and his team.
“The Minister’s officials confirmed that the football clubs eligible would not include the top 12 in the Premiership. But they confirmed that around 200 professional and semi-professional clubs below the Premiership would be eligible.
“When asked the same question about rugby, the official talked about the two professional teams in Edinburgh and Glasgow. He didn’t suggest there was any other infrastructure of people relying on money.”
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are fully owned subsidiaries of the Scottish Rugby Union. The overall headcount of the organisation in the recently published audited accounts was 445, which is up from 401 last year. That includes 115 professional players and 39 professional team coaching and operations staff. In total, there are 329 rugby-facing staff at all levels, including the nationwide Rugby Development department, and 116 other staff (47 stadium operations and 69 commercial, marketing and other corporate functions).
“The intervention package was understood to be helping clubs who have lost paying customers at the gate,” Macdonald added. “Quite a few committee members were struck by the fact that rugby was taking up half of this grant funding, more than was being made available to 200 football clubs.”
According to the Mail, FitzPatrick had said that rugby’s need was greater, with examination of accounts and borrowing showing the game was in more immediate danger of collapse.
“He may be right. That’s what we’re hoping to find out. I think many football clubs would be surprised to hear that,” said Macdonald.
“Peterhead, in my own region, made quite a few people redundant a few weeks ago. And I know that pattern is repeated across the country, to a greater or lesser extent. So many football clubs would say they are in grave danger at this time.”
There was a long delay in getting Scottish Rugby’s accounts for the year to 31st May 2020 audited, with PWC apparently requiring more comfort before signing the business off as a ‘going concern’ for the next 12 months. The accounts were eventually made available a few days after the government bail-out was announced on 10th December.
However, Dodson has been bullish throughout the pandemic about Scottish Rugby’s ability to weather the storm. “The business is stable and in the process of securing its medium-term future,” he said during AGM part two at the end of November. “We face ongoing challenges which may obstruct our progress and alter our time-frames, but, ultimately, Scottish Rugby was a strong business going into this pandemic and we’ll be a strong business when we come out of this crisis.”
In a letter to Gougeon on Wednesday, Macdonald wrote: “The Committee was struck by your provision of £15m in resource funding to rugby, compared with £10m to football and £5m to all other sports combined.
“Your officials confirmed that far more professional and semi-professional clubs and players are affected by the loss of income in lower-league football than in rugby.
“Can you explain why half of all resource funding in this package has gone to rugby, with so much less on a per-capita basis made available to the 200 or so football clubs outwith the Premier League?”
Macdonald expects to have a response in time to be considered at the next Committee meeting on 12th January.
Dodson was tight-lipped about how the Scottish Government funding will be allocated during Tuesday’s night’s AGM part three. “We have not yet been presented with the detailed terms of the government support package or a date for distribution,” he said.
“But it is clear that this funding is to be used to repair the damage to our revenues created by the pandemic. In short, there is an expectation that this emergency funding is intended to allow the Union to resume its core functions with its workforce intact. It is not there to support new or expanded projects, specific programmes, or particular sectors of the organisation.”