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Voice of the nation Robbie Savage fears grass roots sport could remain banned in deprived areas until the New Year.
The Mirror understands Boris Johnson could redraw the lines of his three-tier system when Britain comes out of lockdown next month – with sport below elite levels remaining shut down in areas worst-hit by Covid-19.
That could mean thousands of kids at grass-roots clubs in tier-three regions will be banned from training or playing beyond the Christmas holidays and into 2021.
Mirror columnist Savage, a leading crusader for amateur and youth sport throughout the pandemic, warned: “If this rumour is false, the Government can stamp it out now – but if it's true, we won't take it lying down.”
Savage's grass-roots campaign was recognised in Parliament on Thursday when Alison McGovern, Shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, warned the lack of sport during lockdown was “doing damage” to children's health.
Robbie Savage coaches a grass roots team
(Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
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She said: “Robbie Savage speaks for the nation when he counts down the days in frustration until we can play sport again – and we need answers.”
And the Mirror Sport columnist, who coaches a grass-roots Under-15s team in Macclesfield as a volunteer, piled the pressure on the department of DCMS.
Savage said: “I've heard that the restrictions imposed under the tier system we had before nationwide lockdown is under review – and that grass roots sport could be banned in tier three areas.
“That would have a massive impact on tens of thousands of kids' physical and mental well-being – not least because many places placed under tier three restrictions are massively deprived areas of the North.
Grass roots football could have to wait until the New Year to resume
“Now is the time to show the evidence that supports children and adolescents being able to resume playing sport.
“In the Government's financial relief package for sport, almost half of the allocated £300 million has gone to rugby union and just £28m to non-League and women's football – why?
“Before the second lockdown, we proved we could stage training sessions and matches at grass-roots level, in a covid-secure environment, in tier three areas.
“If football can be played safely from Premier League to grass roots, why are some areas of the sport regarded as more elite than others? It's a nonsensical argument.
“This lockdown is due to finish on December 2, and if grass roots football is not permitted to resume after that date there will be protests and uproar.
“There are countless charities out there creaking at the seams with cases of kids suffering from depression and anxiety.
“That is only going to compound the pressure on our NHS and social services to deal with the long-term effects.
“Since the pandemic kicked in, Childline has dealt with a 37 per cent increase in counselling for children under 11, while the NSPCC has fielded 25 per cent more calls.
“One way of releasing some of this pressure is to allow the return of grass-roots sport following FA guidelines on social distancing and safeguarding.
“Come on, Prime Minister – if you are not planning to keep grass roots sport shut down in Tier 3 areas beyond lockdown, let's hear it.”