Sports minister defends decision to pause return of fans to sports venues

The Government would like to see a return of spectator sports “as soon as possible”, but tackling rising infection rates mean efforts are paused, a digital, culture, media and sport minister has said.

National League clubs have received an offer of financial aid from the Government which will help them start the season this weekend.

The future of the three leagues – the National League, the National League North and the National League South – had been in doubt after plans to allow spectators into grounds were shelved last week.

Premier League clubs are currently under pressure to help provide a bail-out package for those below them in the football pyramid whose very existence is under threat following last week’s decision to keep turnstiles, which were due to re-open on a limited basis from October 1, closed.

Responding to an urgent Question in the House of Commons tabled by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch on government support for amateur and professional sport, sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “We all want our fans back in stadia as soon as possible. Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways.

“We did trial the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, however rising infection rates across the country meant that the Government had to act and we could not proceed on October 1 as planned.

“We have to contain the virus and given the backdrop of rising infection rates we had to press the pause button.”

Minister for Sport Huddleston said the Government support must go to “those most in need” and the implication of the financial problems stretched “way beyond football”.

There had been “constructive conversations” with the Premier League and EFL, Huddleston added.

“The do recognise their responsibility,” he said. “They are at the top of the pyramid and it is perfectly fair and reasonable that those with the broadest shoulders carry the biggest burden.

“They accept that and understand that, and we are working on those details at the moment.”