Clubs team up to fight charity plan

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The Independent Online

The Government has provoked anger among the country's amateur sports clubs at plans to give them charitable status. Their leaders want to meet the chancellor, Gordon Brown, before his spring Budget on 17 April, when the proposals are due to be announced, in an attempt to persuade him to reconsider the scheme. They have the support of 132 MPs, who have signed an early-day motion.

Ostensibly, the proposals would make the country's 110,000 community sporting clubs eligible for rate relief and other benefits, worth an estimated £50m. But representatives of the clubs insist that as few as 5,000 would be eligible anyway. The Charity Commission's own estimate is only five per cent. Even those that did would be confronted by bureaucratic and accounting procedures, which, it is claimed, would dissuade people from becoming volunteers, the people who are so vital to the running of the club.

"It is vital for amateur sport that we see Gordon Brown," said Nigel Hook, head of policy for the Central Council of Physical Recreation. "The clubs are furious about what's going on. I've never known sport to be so united from top to bottom. Remember, these clubs are where the careers of people like David Beckham, Martin Johnson and Nasser Hussain started."

At present, local authorities can grant up to 100 per cent discretionary rate relief, but that differs substantially around the country and from year to year. Rate relief has been known to change from 100 per cent to 25 per cent.

Charitable status would give the clubs 80 per cent mandatory relief, but would also involve the constraints of charity law. Constitutions would have to be rewritten, and playing and non-playing members and assets may have to be separated into two entities.

The CCPR, together with the Football Association, the Lawn Tennis Association, the Rugby Football Union and the England and Wales Cricket Board and many other sports bodies, want a straightforward mandatory rate relief of 80 per cent for all, with the remainder discretionary.

More than 2,400 clubs have written letters of protest to the CCPR and organisations like the ECB, whose director of corporate affairs, John Read, said: "The simple fact is that sports club don't want to become charities," said Read. "The volunteers want to be playing at some level, coaching kids, mowing the lawn, making the teas, running the bar, whatever. What they don't want to be doing is spending their time doing the books. Amateur sport is desperately short of volunteers, anyway. Adding onerous responsibility is not a good way of attracting new members."

He added: "The Government's motives are honest and genuine, and the indications are that it's beginning to take sport seriously, but it shouldn't be at the cost of forcing us down the Charities Commission route."