Some British sporting bodies, including those sending athletes to next year’s Olympics, fear they could go under because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian can reveal.
A handful of national governing bodies have privately told UK Sport that they face an existential threat due to the crisis, while at least a dozen more say they are facing a severe financial hit with events being cancelled and other sources of revenue being slashed.
One chief executive admitted to the Guardian that his sport would lose more than £1m in the next six months if the shutdown continues, and said his situation was not unique.
Last month UK Sport sent a spreadsheet to every Olympic sport to find out the likely financial damage to medal programmes from the Covid-19 virus, and to identify which bodies are in distress or could face an insolvency risk in the next three months.
Each organisation was asked to use a traffic light system to conduct a financial health check to assess the scale of the problem – with red being on the brink of going bust, amber having a significant financial impact on the organisation, and green meaning they were fairly sustainable.
Sports bodies were also asked what the implications might be if the crisis lasted for six months, and to outline what financial help they would require. It was also emphasised that UK Sport wanted to ensure that they were still able to support medal-winning performances in Tokyo.
UK Sport’s approach appears to have been widely welcomed, with one chief executive praising them for taking a “proactive approach in these absolutely unprecedented times”. However he also admitted: “There are a lot of concerns in the sector that income is being turned off.”
Another senior figure said that sports face a delicate balancing act, on the one hand trying to stay alive while also not wanting to appear in any way demanding given the stress the NHS and economy is under.
“There is a incredible sensitivity around this issue, he added. “Clearly funding for the NHS and getting through this as a nation is far more important. But at the same time, if we don’t get support, then sports like ours will find it very difficult to recover.”
Bodies who get most of their funding from UK Sport, which has funded Olympic and Paralympic sport to the tune of £374m over the past four years, are not thought to be under great threat. However sports with more diverse income streams, such as athletics, cycling and badminton, face being hit much harder because they rely on a combination of TV money, hosting events, membership fees and sponsorships, much of which will not kick in if sport remains on lockdown.
One chief executive said he expected that sport would not get back to normal until September at the earliest and said there was added pressure because “the sponsorship market for Olympic and Paralympic sports is not strong right now”.
Other organisations, such as England Athletics and Scotland Athletics, are said to be concerned about a drop in membership fees from runners unable to use facilities or coaching at their local clubs for the foreseeable future. Another source said it was still unclear whether sporting bodies in receipt of government money would be able to furlough staff if the financial crisis worsens.
“The one thing I would add is that Sport England, UK Sport and the DCMS are doing an amazing job,” he added. “They are genuinely looking at helping governing bodies as well as the grassroots. The Sport England funding will be a lifeline for many community sports, for instance. But this is a really significant challenge for all of us.”
A UK Sport spokesperson told the Guardian: “The current situation caused by coronavirus and the cancellation of the sporting calendar for the foreseeable future has created some immediate and significant future financial challenges for several national governing bodies.
“In response, we are actively engaging with all Olympic and Paralympic sports to better understand their unique circumstance and remain in active dialogue with government to explore options to support those organisations most at risk.
“We are also conscious of the wider environment and the fact that essential government services, especially healthcare, must be prioritised. However, we recognise the risk to NGBs and are committed to doing everything in our power to support them.”