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Covid-19: Rugby League

Volume 675: debated on Monday 27 April 2020

What assessment his Department has made of the potential long-term financial effect of the covid-19 outbreak on rugby league. (901873)

I have spoken with the chief executive of the Rugby Football League, Ralph Rimmer, and have been fully briefed on the extreme challenges presented by the suspension of the rugby league season. We recognise that many RFL clubs are on very tight financial margins. The value of rugby league and other sport clubs extends well beyond their immediate balance sheets. They play a pivotal role in their local economies and communities—as you well know, Mr Speaker. Economic interventions such as the job retention scheme will ease some immediate pressures, but we will continue to do what we can to further support them and the wider sport sector at this extremely difficult time.

I thank the Minister for his positive response to my question, because as I am sure he is aware, if any city can claim to be the city of rugby league, it is the city of Hull. As he mentioned, our rugby league clubs do so much more than just offer sport. They offer support for troubled youngsters and help in the community; they are indeed a part of our city.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) has been leading a campaign to save rugby league. I welcome the Minister’s comments on the furloughing scheme, but I also welcome the fact that he acknowledges that this is not enough. What guarantees can he give our brilliant rugby league clubs that the Government are listening and will take action soon to secure their financial future?

I can give the hon. Lady an assurance that I have a great deal of sympathy for what she has said. I have heard representations from both sides of the House, including from her neighbour, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner). Many of the measures that the Government have implemented are useful and are helping, but I am aware that there are particularly acute pressures for rugby league. I and my Department will continue to work across Government, as well as with the RFL. I am also very aware of the time sensitivity of the issue that the hon. Lady has raised.

For many northern towns, rugby league is more than just a sport. It is part of our identity—our culture. Most of the clubs are old enough to have survived the two world wars, but they desperately need our help and support. The sport must survive this crisis. What will the Minister do to make sure that rugby league is still around for our communities to go back to after coronavirus?

Many happy returns to the hon. Member! I assure her that we are taking the issues very seriously. We will continue the dialogue and I am hopeful that we can come to a positive conclusion.