Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Flint Town United FC and met with their Chairman, Darryl Williams, to discuss how the club have managed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, funding opportunities and their plans for the future.
Sadly, like many other small local clubs, Flint Town United FC are struggling to remain financially afloat without the revenue provided by fans, and if fans are not allowed to return soon – they risk closure.
Consequently, I am glad to be launching a new local campaign calling on the Welsh Government to allow the return of fans in a reduced capacity to spectator sport such as football.
For many grass-roots football clubs, the revenue provided by fans, whether it be through ticket sales or food and drink sales, is vital to their survival. Football clubs have been in turmoil since March as have seen the football season suspended, and now face matches being played behind closed doors without their usual income from fans.
It is crucial that local football clubs are able to remain open, not only for the clubs themselves but for the many benefits they bring to both fans and the local community. Football clubs often act a real community hub, interacting with fans of all ages, genders and backgrounds as well as supporting local jobs, businesses and the local economy. If clubs are not able to remain open due to the lack of fan revenue, it would be huge loss for both communities and fans alike.
It is also important to note that allowing a partial return of fans to spectator sport can be done safely. Many clubs have already complied with Covid-19 guidelines and have made their grounds safe. Moreover, the risk to fans is minimal with football grounds often largely outdoors, stewarded and highly regulated.
Other European countries are following a similar phased return of fans to spectator sport and have been successful. Germany are welcoming back fans to stadiums with a maximum of 20% capacity, with Italy looking to increase the number of fans in its stadiums to 25% of their capacity.
Smaller clubs like Flint Town United FC would hugely benefit from allowing a reduced capacity of just 15 – 20% of fans into their grounds. Having fans return in a reduced capacity would help clubs remain financially viable and get through this challenging period, and be in a stronger position when sport can fully return to normal.
I have already written to the First Minister and the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism requesting that they reconsider their guidance and allow fans to return to spectator sport.
If you would like to see a copy of my letter, please click below.
If you are a local sports club that are struggling with similar issues due to the lack of fan revenue, I would be keen to hear your views. Please get in touch via my email - rob.roberts.mp@parliament
I hope as many local residents get behind this campaign, in order to keep our important sports clubs like Flint Town United FC a success - for the benefit of local fans, grass-roots sports and our local communities.
Campaign Update - 23/12/20
As we come towards the end of the year, I thought it would beneficial to provide an update on the progress of this campaign and my plans for the New Year.
Following my letter to the Welsh Government on 13th October, I recieved a response from the Welsh Deputy Minister for Culture and Tourism on 28th October - which I have attached below. While the response pointed out the various financial support available for sports clubs and the reasoning behind not continuing with test events, I felt it was a rather disappointing reply which unfortunately did not recognise the real danger smaller local clubs are in without a return of fans.
I also had the opportunity to raise this issue to the Secretary of State for Wales during Welsh Questions (see video above) and I was glad to have his support on this matter. I will continue to raise the profile and awareness of this issue both locally and at a national level.
More recently, I was glad to see in December that the UK Government updated its guidance and supported a return of spectators to sports competition. In Tier 1 regions, outdoor venues can have up to 4000 spectators or 50% venue capacity (whichever is lowest) return, and in Tier 2 regions, outdoor venues can see a return of 2000 spectators or 50% venue capacity. This is great news for local sports clubs in England and will give them a much needed financial boost.
I sincerely hope the Welsh Government will look to follow the UK Government example and allow a partial return of spectators to areas where there are lower rates of transmission, such as in North Wales. As we head into 2021, I will continue to raise this issue and push the Welsh Government to review their guidance and set out a roadmap for the return of spectators to sports and events in Wales - or I worry we risk loosing many of clubs which are so important to our communities.