Number 10 has dismissed the Premier League’s suggestion “scarce resources” have prevented a bailout deal for lower league football clubs.
The Premier League, made up of the 20 top-flight clubs, and English Football League, which represents the lower three divisions, have been engaged in discussions over a rescue package due to the coronavirus crisis.
With fans banned from stadiums under COVID-19 restrictions, many clubs are facing stark financial difficulties due to the lack of match-day revenues.
The government has called on the Premier League to “step up to the plate” and support lower league clubs.
But, as yet, a deal has yet to be agreed with the Premier League reported to have offered only one-fifth of the estimated £250m that clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two make each season from game-day incomes.
In an interview with Politico, published on Monday, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: “Our offer goes to the issue of ‘need’ rather than ‘want,’ and where you have scarce resources in the current environment that has to be the right approach.
“It also mirrors the government’s approach – rescuing other areas of sport, and indeed the economy, to save bits from going out of business, rather than to underwrite losses.
“At the moment there isn’t an agreement – but we stand willing to continue to talk, and our offer remains on the table to save clubs if they are in significant COVID-related distress.”
However, Downing Street gave short shrift to the suggestion that the Premier League could not afford to help out other clubs.
Over the summer, Premier League clubs splashed out around £1.3bn on new player signings – just £100m shy of last summer’s total, despite the COVID-19 crisis.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters at a regular Westminster briefing the government had “been clear we expect football to support itself”.
He added this was “an explicit part” of the government’s support in allowing Premier League matches to resume earlier this year under its “Project Restart”.
“We do want to see progress, particularly when Premier League clubs have spent over a £1bn in the recent transfer window – nearly as much as the next four biggest European leagues put together,” the spokesman said.
Mr Masters highlighted, in the Politico interview, how £250m of the Premier League’s summer spending went on lower-league players “which obviously assisted many clubs to reach a financially secure situation”.