Football is “at best, being ignored” by the government and “at worst being victimised by it”, Rick Parry has claimed in an excoriating letter to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden.
The EFL chair has been in negotiations with the government since the spring over a requested £250m bailout for his 72 clubs from the Premier League. But with discussions between the two bodies at an impasse, and the government apparently reluctant to intervene, Parry has broken ranks.
Stating he wishes to make previously private correspondence a “matter of public record”, Parry accuses Dowden of “simply hoping that a solution materialises” to the crisis and of acting “blithely” in the face of the imminent collapse of lower-league clubs. In response the government said it had no intention of changing its approach that football should work out the solution itself.
Parry draws a contrast between the government’s laissez-faire approach to professional football, where interventions have been limited to £10m for the National League and calling on the Premier League to “step up to the plate” in bailout talks, and the £1.5bn in funding that was provided for the cultural sector.
“While football grounds in Rochdale, Grimsby, Mansfield and Carlisle might be a long way from Glyndebourne or the Royal Ballet,” Parry writes, “they are nonetheless equally import [sic] parts of our nation’s heritage.
“It must have dawned on you that it is deeply unfair that cultural institutions like these are receiving government hand-outs while also being able to generate revenues by admitting the paying public. Yet football is told to support itself and its clubs have to play behind closed doors.”
Parry was recently revealed as one of the prime movers behind Project Big Picture, an idea he accuses Dowden of being “dismissive” of. But it is a call to allow the return of fans to football grounds that is at the heart of Parry’s argument.
“What is needed is a clear plan as to how we are going to keep EFL clubs in business in the period ahead,” he writes. “In our view, this must involve getting fans safely back into stadia as quickly as possible.
“For some reason, football is being regarded as a peculiarly undeserving case and, as a result, many of our clubs have now reached the conclusion that we are at best being ignored by a Government that doesn’t understand our National Sport and at worst being victimised by it.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We have been clear that professional football has the means to support itself and have been assured by the football authorities that they have no intention to let any club go bust due to the pandemic. We have secured a package for the National League and our focus is now on supporting those sports and sectors that need it most and cannot look after themselves. We urge the EFL and Premier League to finalise a deal as soon as possible.”