Representing more than 4,000 sport and physical activity providers, the trade bodies have made an urgent request to extend the temporary VAT relief to their members which provide sport and leisure facilities and admission to sporting events across the UK.
Without this support, the sector’s ability to keep millions of people active and engaged in sport and physical activity is at risk, at the very time the government has launched its new obesity strategy to help improve community resilience to COVID-19 and reduce pressure on the NHS.
Organisations in the sport and physical activity sector experienced a prolonged closure due to COVID-19, leaving them with zero income, combined with ongoing overheads. Thousands have been forced to remain closed as reopening is not commercially viable under the restrictions, while others have experienced reduced capacity due to social distancing restrictions.
The trade bodies fear that a failure to level the playing field will result in growing inequalities in sport and physical activity among the communities they serve.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “Our sector has been severely hit by the restrictions caused by COVID-19 and, like hospitality, accommodation and culture, faces a long and challenging recovery.
“But this is a health crisis and we must see greater support for our leisure facilities, gyms and sports clubs so they can fulfil their vital role in increasing our physical and mental resilience to COVID-19.
“The virus has exacerbated health inequalities in our society, with our most vulnerable populations worst affected by the closure of vital sport and leisure facilities, including children and young people, people living in areas of high deprivation, and older adults at risk of isolation and loneliness.
“By providing VAT relief, the Government has the chance to level the playing field for the sport and physical activity sector and help get us back to business at the time we are needed most.”
The Sport and Recreation Alliance has added their support to this ask and highlighted the impact a VAT reduction would have for ticketed events, vital to governing bodies and clubs and, in particular, for reducing inequalities in women’s sport.
Lisa Wainwright, CEO at Sport and Recreation Alliance, said: “There seems no obvious reason why a festival goer or visitor to a theme park should benefit but a football, rugby or cricket fan does not.
“While sport is currently behind closed doors, a VAT reduction would help fans ‘buy forward’ for events coming up in the future – notably for major events like the Rugby League World Cup 2021 or season tickets for their favourite clubs. Many of these clubs do not operate at the top of the sporting pyramid and the cashflow benefits would be a real boost.”
“Doing so would also help to protect the areas of the sector at greatest risk, such as women’s sport. At a time when we are striving to grow demand and exposure for women’s sport, a VAT cut would be vital in sustaining existing well-established women’s sport clubs and competitions. A number of these clubs also deliver community sport programmes to huge numbers of local women and girls of all ages."
“As a recent BBC Sport survey highlighted, 82% of elite British sportswomen have said they have concerns about the impact of coronavirus on women’s sport.”
The Alliance has also underlined the significant impact greater support for our sport and leisure facilities could have to grassroots activity.
Wainwright added: “Extending the cut to the provision of facilities would help those in our sector who currently offer sport on their premises at the standard rate, such as golf clubs.
“It is crucial to the health of the nation that we get the public back into activity and using their local facilities as quickly as possible. However, we must make sure that the infrastructure is able to remain in place to support this expected wave of activity.”
Saracens Mavericks – Netball
A reduction in VAT to mirror that afforded to the hospitality and culture sector could be the difference between survival or the closure of the two-time Netball Superleague champions as a club.
The team are one of the traditional powerhouses of their sport, attracting big attendances and providing a number of players who sit on the England pathway.
However, the impact of COVID-19 and subsequent cancellation of the 2020 season has had a dramatic effect on the finances of the organisation. Lost income is now threatening the future of a club which helps over 2,000 women and girls to play and watch the sport they love in the East region.
Mavericks have taken the step of creating a Go Fund Me page which has a target set of £50,000 to allow them to continue to operate.
If government were to agree to this reduction, the club could be in line to receive approximately £60,000 and their future would be secured.
Kathryn Ratnapala, Head Coach at Saracens Mavericks said: “We can’t be any clearer, this is a case of life or death for us. We are a community club, with a loyal fanbase and the ability to reach thousands of women and girls in our area.
“We are a hub for activity, and we are passionate about growing netball from the grassroots to the elite.
“All we are calling for is equality. If government can provide the exact same relief for our sector as it is supporting others – we can survive.”