The Scottish Government has defended its decision to hand Rangers its biggest emergency interest free loan during the Covid-19 crisis.

The interest-free loans were given to 11 Premiership clubs last season to help mitigate the financial impact of matches being played behind closed doors.

Rangers topped the table when it came to clubs claiming emergency covid loans from the Scottish Government.

The Ibrox side was handed £3.2 million as an interest free loan from SNP ministers in January after an agreement was struck by Scottish football's governing body, the SFA to provide clubs with financial support at the height of the second lockdown.

All teams in the Premiership last season except for Celtic took advantage of the loan facility, which paid out a combined total of £25.2 million.

Aberdeen claimed the second largest amount, with a loan of £3.19 million, while Motherwell claimed a total of £2.9 million and Hibernian and Dundee United both received £2.8 million.

The borrowd money is repayable over a period of up to 20 years with no repayment due until 2022 at the earliest.

The Scottish Government has defended the payments after being quizzed about why Rangers received so much.

Ministers said: "The Covid-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for all sectors, including Scottish sport.

"Restrictions on supporters attending events were put in place in March 2020, causing severe financial problems across a number of high profile sports. Sports clubs across the country are at the heart of communities and, without urgent financial support, many may not have survived. Football in particular in Scotland is extremely dependent on supporter income, with the highest per capita attendance in Europe with gate receipts accounting for 43% of revenue – almost three times higher than the European average.

"The Scottish Government launched the Emergency Scottish sport rescue fund which focussed on ensuring sustainability and survival in the short to medium term across all sports. Football was awarded £30m which was utilised to cover the entire Scottish Professional Football League structure and to support women’s football.

"The Scottish Government agreed in February 2021 to provide The Rangers Football Club Limited with a credit facility of £1.818 million. This was funded from the initial £20 million Premiership Division Support Fund, part of the £55 million emergency sports funding package put in place by the Scottish Government to tackle lost ticket revenue during the pandemic.

HeraldScotland:

"The Scottish Government increased the Premiership Division Support Fund by £5 million in March 2021 and the Rangers Football Club Limited’s credit facility was subsequently increased to £3.2 million.

"The Premiership Division Support Fund was initially allocated on the basis that no applicant could receive more than the estimated total amount of income it would have lost and the additional expenditure it would have incurred by the end of season 2020/21 as a result of compliance with Covid-19 public health rules.

"The Scottish Government took into consideration lost income and additional costs relating to season 2019/20 as well as season 2020/21 in assessing applications. The initial £20 million was allocated on the basis that no club would initially receive more than £20 million divided by the number of applicants.

"The Scottish Government decided that the loans would be interest free and repayable over a period of 20 years beginning in September 2022. The Scottish Government provided credit facilities to Scottish Premiership football clubs on the same terms and conditions. The terms and conditions were communicated to all potential applicants."

It is understood that amongst the terms and conditions was a rule that club directors cannot pay themselves bonuses or above-inflation pay rises until the cash is paid back.

Quarterly financial reports are being issued to ministers by the clubs, and any "threatened change in the financial position" is expected to be reported to Scottish ministers immediately.

In the event of any club with a loan going into administration, the unpaid money is expected to be paid back with interest.

Clubs playing in the Championship, League One and League Two last season were given grants instead of loans by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government first announced in December last year it would offer a funding package worth £55 million to spectator sports "vulnerable of going under" as a result of the pandemic.

The first repayments are due in September next year but the loan agreements show the Scottish government can delay this if requested by the clubs. The monthly instalments are due to end by 2042.