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Sports clubs facing financial ruin?

Gordon Farquhar | 09:58 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009

Life's often about perspective, how things look from where you stand. So here's a bit of a classic: The Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR) has warned that community sports clubs are facing potential disaster as a result of the recession.

A survey carried out for the umbrella organisation that lobbies on behalf of 290 sports and leisure governing bodies in Britain is predicting that 6,000 clubs could go out of business.

The statistically significant survey of 160 clubs found that half those asked said the recession had already had a negative effect on them. Almost 40% said membership renewals were down, a majority said they expected commercial revenues to fall, and a quarter said they'd be spending less on coaching and grassroots initiatives.

At the CCPR's annual conference in London, the organisation's chairwoman, Brigid Simmonds, said that "the data shows that sports clubs are in trouble and that thousands could go under".

She added: "Even those who survive the recession are telling us they are going to have to make cutbacks... in coaching, investment in kit and community programmes."

Simmonds then called on the Government to introduce a moratorium on new regulations, laws and charges affecting clubs, citing threatened increased liquor licensing fees, water drainage charges and music license fees as being among the problems clubs were facing.

The CCPR survey also showed that the economic downturn has had a negative impact on the recruitment of volunteers as well as the number of new membership inquiries.

All told, a pretty grim outlook. Or is it? Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, has another view. That's not to say he rejects those findings, or doesn't think times are tough. He does, but here's his take.

Andy Burnham

I asked him if he recognised the parlous state as described by the CCPR. He told me:
"I don't see it in those terms. Sport is in a position of fundamental strength. Investment is rising in school sport, club sport. It is tough, but sport is incredibly well placed to get through (the recession). There's a resilience at the heart of sport. It's a moment for great optimism not pessimism. Years ago, sport had to work hard to be heard in government but today has won that argument."

There's no doubting his personal commitment to securing the future of community sports clubs, but I questioned whether he could persuade his cabinet colleagues in the big-hitting departments to support the idea of making exceptions for sports clubs in the areas of licensing, rates and taxes.

I mean, if Scout and Guide fees can be Gift Aided, why not sport clubs fees? He pointed to previous successes, like getting the compulsory criminal records check free of charge for those who work with children at sports clubs, and promised to continue to make efforts for sport in that respect.

The CCPR and the Department for Culter, Media and Sport know the treasury's door is bolted shut. Burnham wrung every last penny out of Alistair Darling in order to fund elite sport ahead of the London Olympics in 2012, so he needs another target - and in professional sports, like football, rugby and cricket, he's found one.

"To be fair, most sports do cascade money down through the system, but they're calling on the government to do more," he told me. "I'm calling on them to do more.

"Not all sports are investing as much as they should be in the base of their sports. It's their own self interest to do that. Too much does evaporate at the top in end payments of wages and to individuals. It does need to come down the system, and I'll carry on banging that drum. It's a shared responsibility."


  • Comment number 1.

    Until this season I have run a sunday football team. The fees are now reaching the prohibitive range. £120.00 for a pitch, often pitted and hard with disasterous changing facilities, seems very high. £35.00 for the Ref is money well spent. Our leagues fees, the London F.A's and the fines for yellow and red cards were what made it almost impossible to run. many of the players were either unemployed or on a minimum wage so got behiind with their fees. If we did not have a sponsor who put in £1,000 per season we would not have survived. Unfortunately the downturn has hit the sponsor and no more money is coming our way. This season will sadly be our last.

  • Comment number 2.

    Clubs could do more to help themselves though. The government has introduced initiatives such as CASC which offers rates rebates to clubs with community objectives at the heart of their operation but very few have taken up the opportunity to apply.

  • Comment number 3.

    Re "Juliencahn's" story: £120 for a pitch sounds a that normal? anyone else out there having these problems? Just getting subs to cover the pitch hire's got to be a tenner a pop at that rate!
    Re the CASC scheme that, "Smarri00" mentions, I hear quite often the complaint that it's overly bureaucratic and that puits some people off, but you'd have thought it would be a good way for a club to save money! .

  • Comment number 4.

    I would love to know what "rebates" CASC status can obtain. As far as I am aware it merely means you do not pay tax on your profit (which of course relies on you making some!!) and rebates tax deducted from interst income (which relies on you having money in the bank and earning 0.000001% interest!!!

  • Comment number 5.

    I was informed this week that my training costs to access my local athletics track will go from £28/year to £216/year from the 1st of August, due to a deal the local council have done with a private partnership to manage the facility.

    Annoying for me, but disasterous for a family of 4 who would now be expected to find over £1000/year to access the same facilities that they used last year for £112.

    Couple the effect of this increase to an extended recession and I can confidently predict that my local athletics club will be joining the list of those going out of business.


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