Rugby codes were at war over Government bail-out disparities on Friday night after ministers were accused of showing favour to the union game in "Tories southern heartlands".
Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, faced criticism from a trade union and RFL teams over his claim there was no "north-south" divide in his decision to hand rugby union the lion’s share of a £300million pot.
In contrast with the Premiership and RFU’s share of £103million, the Rugby Football League receives £12miillion in addition to a £16million loan it received in May.
The GMB union, which represents players and staff, claimed ministers had created "a two-tier system that favours the game in the Tories southern heartlands" over rugby league clubs in the north.
St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus, said "the optics [of the difference in funding to union] don’t look great", taking particular aim at the prospect of taxpayers helping a Premiership already propped up by CVC capital investors.
Gary Hetherington, the Leeds Rhinos chief executive, also told the Yorkshire Evening Post the northern sport "will certainly compare themselves with rugby union clubs and fans in the rest of the country."
However, their claims were denied by the Government and then angrily dismissed by RFU boss Bill Sweeney. "To say that we are a posh or Tory-based sport is absolutely nonsense," Sweeney told the BBC.
The governing bodies of all 11 sports in line to share an initial £240million pot from the Treasury had initially expressed gratitude over the handout detailed on Thursday. The RFL itself had stressed it was relatively happy with the offer, having "made a calculation based on lost ticket revenue".
However, among those overlooked was boxing, prompting Eddie Hearn, the promoter, to accuse Mr Huddleston and Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, of being "detached from reality". Hearn – who took part in ‘Miss Out To Help Out’ a National Lottery organised scheme with the charity Sporting Memories on Thursday – told Telegraph Sport: "They completely disregarded boxing and the role it plays in the community to put funding into other (great) sports. Rugby Union £120m, horse racing £40m, motor racing £6m. These people [Dowden, Huddleston] are so far removed from society and inner city communities.”
Meanwhile, the Football Association, which will distribute a total of £28million of Government funds in the coming weeks, warned it will argue "very hard" to receive the bailout package in grants rather than loans if clubs are in "no state" to make repayments.
Mark Bullingham, the governing body’s chief executive, added: "We’ve got a month to go back and say where we would like it to be grants rather than loans," he said. "I think our first priority is to look into clubs that really need it both in the women’s game and National League. And if we see that those clubs really are in no state to repay the loans, then we’ll argue very hard for it to be grants."
A total package of immediate loans amount to £241million, plus an as-yet-unallocated £60million contingency fund. The figures are dwarfed by the £1.15 billion support pot for cultural organisations delivered over the summer, but sports told to expect cheques expressed delight.
Championship rugby clubs and the tiers below also receive £32million, while horse-racing, which had asked for £60million, is also due to be handed a £40million lifeline. Motorsport gets £6million, the LTA have been promised £5million, while ice hockey, netball and basketball get £4million each. Badminton gets £2million, while £1million has been set aside for greyhound racing.
McManus, of St Helens, added there was "question mark" over whether the taxpayer should be helping bail out the Premiership so heavily after it received a cash injection from private equity firm, CVC.
"It’s a huge gap," he told Radio 4’s Today programme. "If you’re comparing like with like and Super League and Premier Rugby in particular, Super League in total probably gets in total around £15m and Premier Rugby £60m."
Peter Davies, the GMB’s senior organiser, had said the package is "hardly levelling up". "The Tories have created a two-tier system that sees their rugby union mates getting a bung of cash, whilst leaving northern rugby league clubs to die," he added. However, Mr Huddleston had previously insisted he was "comfortable" the package was being fairly distributed.
"The money is based on the need of clubs to make sure they survive, so it is not a north-south divide, Tory vs Labour area," he added.