The Wimbledon tennis tournament has received by far the largest amount of government support from a Covid-19 insurance scheme set up to help live events organisers.
Organisers of live events ranging from music festivals to business conferences and car shows found it impossible last year to find commercial insurance, as insurers balked at the high risk of coronavirus restrictions being reimposed. After months of pleas for help from the events sector, the government intervened in August 2021 to provide reinsurance, in a move the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said would allow events organisers to “plan with confidence”.
However, there are concerns the scheme has fallen short of the £800m in cover that was originally promised. The government has so far only disclosed support worth £109m for 18 entities, one of which was the Ministry of Defence in its running of the RAF Cosford air show, according to state aid disclosures.
By far the biggest disclosed beneficiary was the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Ltd (AELTC), the company that runs the Wimbledon championships and whose board members include former British tennis stars Tim Henman and Anne Keothavong. It received £77m, more than 70% of the total disclosed. Wimbledon’s organisers had previously won plaudits for taking out commercial pandemic insurance that paid out well over £100m when the tournament was cancelled in 2020.
The second largest beneficiary of the government scheme was the British Phonographic Industry, the music industry lobby group that organises the Brit Awards. It received £9.2m.
The government said it was only obliged to publish details of awards worth more than £500,000, and that more than half the events covered were in the arts or entertainment.
The scheme’s overall low take-up contrasts with the £800m cited in the original announcement. The government has been criticised for offering help that came months too late for many events. Events organisers also complained that the cover on offer had important gaps, including not insuring cancellations if an artist or crew member contracted Covid-19 and tours had to be cancelled.
Paul Reed, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, a lobby group, said the insurance was too expensive, and that it lacked coverage where social distancing was enforced, which meant it “wasn’t useful for festivals or live music”.
“I’m yet to speak to a single festival who took out the insurance,” he said. “It simply wasn’t fit for purpose.”
A government source said the scheme was “demand-led”, meaning it was unable to increase the number of businesses covered.
Other beneficiaries of the scheme have included businesses running food and gardening events and even antiques shows, as well as trade shows on topics such as engineering technology and medicine.
Sally Bolton, the AELTC chief executive, said: “The AELTC welcomes the support of the live events reinsurance scheme in relation to The Championships 2022.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Our live events reinsurance scheme backed our brilliant arts, sporting and music events to continue despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and followed the unprecedented support provided for the culture sector through our £2bn culture recovery fund.
“It has helped support almost 15,000 jobs, more than £400m of investment and 3 million people are expected to attend events supported by the scheme this summer. The generous scheme remains open for bids until September.”