Ex-player Robbie Savage asks Matt Hancock about return of football during press briefing

21 May 2020, 19:53

Robbie Savage asked Matt Hancock about the return of football
Robbie Savage asked Matt Hancock about the return of football. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Former Premier League player Robbie Savage made a surprise appearance at Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing to grill the Health Secretary over the return of football.

The ex-footballer quizzed Matt Hancock about grassroots games, asking if the sport would be on hold until a coronavirus vaccine is found.

Mr Savage, who used to play for Leicester City and the Welsh national team, also asked why junior tennis players were able to train, but “young people who play the working-class game of football are currently not allowed to?"

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He also said: “It's Mental Health Awareness Week and we all know how important all sport is as a contributor to achieving healthy minds and bodies.”

Mr Hancock replied: "Thanks Robbie, it's good to have you, thanks for taking part in the press conference.

“I absolutely get the impact of this virus on peoples' lives and the mental health impact, and for many people being able to play football is a huge release and a really positive thing.

"The rules are there - of course they can go out and exercise, but I know that exercising on your own or with members of your household is nothing like being able to play football.

“I get it, I understand why it's a problem, but 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 who follow the rules, the faster we'll get the number of new cases down, and the more we'll be able to release the social distancing rules."

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, added: "I fully understand the reason for the question.

“To absolutely reinforce your point, exercise is good for physical health, it's good for mental health, and that's one of the reasons we were very keen in the first very tentative easing of some of the lockdown - to make it easier for people to do things outdoors, and if it's within their own family within the same household, then a kick around is fine.

"The difference, and this is one of the issues, we need to think about a balance, with all the things we are trying to do, it's about trying to release where we can, but not take the risk where we have a transmission again.

"We were very confident that it is much safer to do things, the same things, outdoors than indoors, so that's the first thing and that's part of the reason we were able to do things.

"The rules are except within your own household, it's one other person at two metres.

"That's a small increment from where we were - now it is possible to play the kind of sports you are talking about at two metres with one other person or within your own household.

"Clearly to have a league football game, a contact sport, and does involve a larger number, the risks are greater."

Mr Savage then asked for a “pathway for grassroots football being able to restart,” questioning whether players would have to wait for a vaccine.

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The Health Secretary said he “very much hoped” that wouldn’t be the case, with Prof Whitty adding: "My expectation is that a vaccine before next year on a widespread basis is very unlikely, so I definitely hope that football will be available, possibly with some degree of change in the way it is played, but I think we are trying to go very, very cautiously along that path.

“My very strong hope is that football is well before we get out to the right-hand end of that path."

Mr Hancock finished by saying: "We want grassroots football back as soon as we safely can."