Premier League will hand over £1m to help Women's Super League restart

Paul MacInnes

The Premier League will donate £1m to help the Women’s Super League restart next season but continues to stand its ground on providing financial support for the men’s football pyramid.

Richard Masters appeared in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee to answer questions on the restart of the Premier League. In a wide-ranging series of exchanges, the chief executive was also asked to explain the competition’s support for Black Lives Matter and the possible use of Covid-19 passports by supporters. The theme to which discussion returned time and again, however, was money.

Under questioning from the committee chair, the Conservative MP Julian Knight, Masters admitted £15m of the £20m the league pledged to support the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic had been rerouted from other charitable causes. Masters also laid out that the projected losses for the league this season could run to £700m.

Of new money, the standout figure was the £1m the league will give to fund testing capacity for the restart of the WSL and Championship in September. The men’s top flight has received criticism for failing to help fund a completion of the women’s season, in contrast to its peers in the Bundesliga.

Related: FA to make 124 positions redundant with Covid-19 bringing £300m losses

“We want the women’s game to be successful,” Masters said, confirming also the league remains in negotiations to eventually assume control of the WSL from the Football Association. Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of the women’s professional game, welcomed the assistance.

“We would like to thank the Premier League for its support in providing crucial funding that will allow us to align with their testing protocols when we come back for the 2020-21 season,” she said.

On the subject of the lower tiers of the men’s game, Masters was less forthcoming. Support for the football pyramid was part of the justification for restarting the Premier League, Knight observed. When asked what money would be diverted to support the lower leagues, however, Masters stuck to a consistent position: that the restart would enable current obligations to be fulfilled.

With the risk of 10 to 15 EFL clubs going bankrupt, Knight asked, had there been any approach from the EFL for extra funding? “We meet with the EFL every week and that has not been a topic of discussions,” Masters replied.

The EFL chairman, Rick Parry, told the DCMS committee in May that a financial “rescue package” from the Premier League would be necessary to keep EFL clubs from going to the wall. He also called for reform of the parachute payment system, but this was another position on which Masters seemed unwilling to budge.

Arguing that the game as a whole was still in “rescue mode”, Masters said: “These topics need to be addressed, but not now. The last deal [on parachute payments] was agreed 18 months ago; we are committed to it for the next three years.”

Masters faced sustained questioning on the league’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement. He said the action drew a “clear distinction between a moral cause and political agenda” and was possible because of “unanimous” support across the game.

That was reinforced when the league issued a statement saying: “All professional football bodies and the players and managers recognise the importance of the message that black lives matter. However, we do not endorse any political organisation or movement, nor support any group that calls for violence or condones illegal activity.”

On the potential for supporters to return to grounds next season without physical distancing by using “passports” that prove they are coronavirus-free, Masters asked the government to be “flexible in its approach” and consider the prospect.