Two of the English clubs behind the now doomed European “Super League” proposals were also the only two clubs to be bailed out by the UK taxpayer to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds using a government backed COVID-19 relief fund.
Late on Sunday evening Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC were among six Premier League teams which released statements announcing their intention to join a so-called “Super League”, along with six other European clubs. The plans would have created a closed league of some of the continent’s richest clubs. All six English clubs have now pulled out of the league following huge opposition from football’s governing bodies, public figures and fan groups, and the Super League plans are in tatters.
UK politicians condemned the plans, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson referring to plans as “by the elite, for the elite”. Labour leader Keir Starmer said that the proposal “cuts across all the things that make football great.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said, “The French State will support all the steps taken by the LFP, the FFF, UEFA, and FIFA to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European." The European Parliament’s sports group also condemned the proposal.
UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that the government would “put everything on the table to stop this happening” and announced a root and branch review of football governance. “We will be reviewing everything the government does to support these clubs to play”, Dowden told MPs, including governance reform, competition law and the mechanisms that allow football to take place.
No mention, however, was made of the substantial sums of taxpayers money two of the founding members of the Super League have been bailed out by, through the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).
On the 17th of March 2020, with the economic implications of the coronavirus becoming clear, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the launch of the scheme to support large firms that make a “material contribution to the UK economy”.
The CCFF, run by the Bank of England for the UK Treasury, is only open to the biggest businesses and offers cut price finance, backed by taxpayers cash at interest rates of 0.2 to 0.6 percent. Smaller companies unable to access funds through the CCFF must take out loans through commercial banks at a rate of up to 6 percent.
Last year, a VICE World News investigation revealed that companies receiving billions from the fund had laid off staff and paid out hefty dividends to shareholders. VICE World News also revealed how companies complicit in human rights abuses and environmental destruction had been bailed out by the fund. Following our investigation, MPs called for environmental conditions to be added to the fund.
Football clubs Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur also accessed hundreds of millions of pounds through the fund.
Last June, it was reported that Tottenham Hotspur FC had accessed £175 million through the fund. The news came just two months after the club announced a 20 percent pay cut for all non-playing staff and its intentions to furlough most of its staff. The news of the cuts prompted outrage from plans and players and forced multimillionaire chairman Daniel Levy to U-turn. Levy, who acts as chair of the club, is also Managing Director of ENIC International which owns Tottenham. ENIC international, which is registered in the Bahamas, is owned by billionaire Joe Lewis. Levy and members of his family have a 29.4 percent stake in ENIC international. Last year the club’s revenue was £402.4 million, though they made a loss of £63.9 million. The previous year saw revenue of £460.7 million and a profit of £68.6million
In January this year, Arsenal FC also announced their intention to draw £120 million from the fund. The use of a taxpayer funded bailout came just five months after the club controversially announced its intention to make 55 non-playing staff redundant, whilst negotiating eye-watering salaries for its playing staff. The club is owned by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, a conglomerate founded and owned by US billionaire Stan Kroenke. The company owns over seven professional sports franchises, three stadiums (and one further under construction), four TV channels, 19 magazines and more. It is thought that Kroenke’s net worth was around $10 billion according to Forbes magazine.
Also on the board of the club, which last year saw football revenue of £343.5 million but a loss of £47.8 million, is Lord Harris of Peckham, a businessman and Conservative Party peer and donor.
Both teams, along with the other ten founding clubs were set to split a 3.5 billion euro grant from the new Super League, and were due to make around 264 million euros a year in broadcast revenue according to the Financial Times.
Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, a think tank which researches corporate governance, told VICE World News, “A sport with a habit of seeking finance from cruel, oppressive regimes going cap in hand to the Bank of England is a panel show punchline waiting to happen. But public money being used to support private businesses that show such contempt for their own workers and for wider society is no joke. The Super League plans may have collapsed but this is just one of many issues highlighting the moral void within football and the urgent need for reform of its governance."
Before Arsenal pulled out of the Super League, VICE World News asked the club about its use of CCFF funds, and whether there was any problem with acting in a way that is condemned across the political spectrum while drawing from the public purse. The club responded confirming that it had joined the Super League, and said, “unfortunately we are unable to assist with your request for an interview” – a request we had never made.
Tottenham Hotspur did not respond to request for comment.