The coronavirus pandemic took an unexpected turn on Thursday as ex-footballer Robbie Savage confronted health secretary Matt Hancock at the government’s daily press conference.
Savage, to the surprise of many, appeared in the briefing’s media questions segment, following journalists such as the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuennsberg.
The ex-Leicester, Birmingham, Blackburn and Derby midfielder appeared as a Daily Mirror columnist, and asked why football wasn’t allowed under the government’s partial lifting of lockdown restrictions last week.
“It is mental health awareness week,” Savage told Hancock, “and we all know how important all sport is as a contributor to achieving healthy minds and bodies.
“Why, therefore, is it that in published guidelines by governing bodies, tennis players, golfers and athletes are able to receive one-on-one coaching sessions, but young people who play the working class game of football are currently not allowed to?”
Under the government’s latest lockdown rules, people are allowed to do unlimited outdoor exercise, though team sports have been ruled out. The immediate future of football remains uncertain.
Hancock, telling former Strictly Come Dancing contestant Savage that “it’s good to have you”, conceded there is “nothing like being able to play football”.
“Unfortunately these rules have to be in place amongst the population as a whole because we’ve got to get a grip of this virus.
“The more people that follow the rules, the faster we will get the number of new cases down and the more we are going to be able to release social distancing rules.”
Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, added: “It is possible to play the kind of sports you are talking about [tennis, golf and athletics] at two metres with one other person or within your household.
“Clearly, to have a football game, which is a contact sport and does involve a larger number, the risks are greater.
“A group of 22 people, many of whom coming into contact with one another, linking their households, is a much bigger risk than two people at a two-metre distance.
“[The question is] at what stage do we think the rate is low enough for that to be a safe thing to do?”
Prof Whitty went on to say people may have to play football with rule changes before a vaccine is found.
“I definitely hope that football will be available – possibly with some degree of change of how it’s played, there may have to be some ways we think it through – in advance of a vaccine.
“My very strong hope, and I’m sure this is a strong hope of everybody’s, is football is well before we get right out to that right-hand end of that path.”
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