Dowden: Grassroots sport and gyms to get priority – but only once lockdown ends
Hopes of grassroots sport, gyms, swimming pools and golf courses restarting during England’s second lockdown have been dashed by the Culture Secretary.
Oliver Dowden told MPs such leisure and sporting activities will be among the first to return, but only once the current shutdown ends.
Mr Dowden also said he is “very disappointed” by the “inability” of football’s governing bodies to come to an agreement on further financial support for clubs.
England’s second lockdown is due to run for four weeks until December 2, but campaigners have pressed for some fitness pursuits to be allowed to continue to benefit physical and mental health.
Speaking in the Commons, Conservative MP Shaun Bailey raised the plight of grassroots football clubs in his West Bromwich West constituency.
Mr Dowden replied: “I know that football clubs large and small make a huge contribution to their community on and off the pitch. And I can assure my honourable friend they won’t be forgotten.
“As soon as we’re in a position to start lifting restrictions, grassroots sports will be one of the first to return.
“But until then we have made sure that families can keep exercising throughout this lockdown so I would urge people to get out and get fit.”
Conservative Rob Butler said his Aylesbury constituents have made requests to keep gyms, swimming pools and golf courses open to help maintain their physical and mental health, asking: “What can (Mr Dowden) do to convince the Cabinet Office to consider this?”
Mr Dowden replied: “I can assure him I’m working closely with other ministers across Government to ensure they will be at the front of the queue to return when these restrictions expire.”
Conservative Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said 10 to 15 lower league football clubs could collapse due to financial pressures stemming from the pandemic.
He asked: “Would the minister join me in urging football bodies to follow the example of other sports to finally put the squabbling aside and to come to a proper deal for the good of the game?”
Mr Dowden replied: “I agree with him 100%. I am of course very disappointed in the current situation and the inability of football to come to that agreement.
“It is the case there is already £50 million on the table for League One and League Two clubs to stop them falling into financial difficulty, which is a good start.
“I know that further discussions are taking place and indeed my honourable friend the minister for sport met again with both bodies – the Premier League and the EFL – this week to reiterate the need to reach an agreement in the interest of all fans.”
Mr Dowden declined to give a date for the full return of live music and other live performances when pressed by Labour.
But he confirmed rehearsals for productions “can continue behind closed doors” during the second lockdown.