I have previously written to the minister on behalf of Thorn Athletic, which is based in Johnstone in my constituency, to seek greater understanding of the rationale and evidence base for restricting amateur football at level 3. From that correspondence, the minister will be aware of the important community work that is undertaken by Thorn Athletic and, in particular, its positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of young men.
Therefore, what support has been put in place to support young men, in particular, who will be hard hit by the restrictions on amateur football and team sports?
The Scottish Government absolutely recognises the benefits that sport brings, not just to our physical health but to our mental health, and the key role that sports bodies, including football bodies, play in facilitating those benefits. That is why, right up to level 3, the Government has managed to provide an exemption for under-18s to continue to participate in sport, including contact sports such as football.
The Minister for Mental Health has been working on a range of support for mental health, but Tom Arthur is right that our football clubs across the country do a great job, so we want to get people back to playing. The route map for doing that is to get prevalence down across Scotland and to get all areas on to lower levels, so that sport can continue as before, because it is so important for our mental and physical health. However, football is a contact sport, and we must make sure that the measures that we put in place protect against the spread of the virus.
The minister is aware of the mental health benefits of the return to amateur football, as we have seen in the submissions from clubs including Rutherglen Glencairn. In light of the fact that amateur football is returning in England, when will that decision be reviewed? There is a great desire to see the same happen in Scotland.
I am not sure what the final details are in England. Amateur football is happening in level 1 and 2 areas in Scotland, and we hope that more parts of Scotland will move into level 2, so that football can recommence. In England, it is clear that it is allowed in levels 1 and 2, as is the case in Scotland, but the wording, which I do not think has been clarified, is not so clear for level 3 in England. Obviously, that is a matter for the English Government to take forward.
We have to take the best advice we can get. The virus spreads through close contact, and football is a contact sport. Although it is possible not to have tackling—and, therefore, not to have physical contact—it is not possible to play the game with the 2m distancing that we consider is needed to avoid the close contact that spreads the virus.
I am desperately keen that we bring football back at all levels across Scotland, but we have to take a balanced approach, which is why I was pleased that we were able to extend the playing of football at under-18 level to level 3.
However, the member should be in no doubt that we understand the difficulty that the restrictions around the pandemic—particularly at levels 3 and 4—pose for many people across Scotland.
As I said last time, Beatrice Wishart makes a strong case, particularly for areas where levels of the virus are lower. However, we need to be careful that we do not inadvertently do something that results in the levels in places such as Shetland rising, which would have a wider impact.
I know that our clinical leads are very keen to ensure that people are able to continue to play sport, particularly in areas where there is lower prevalence and there are weather challenges, such as those that are experienced in Shetland. There is a positive ear on those matters. We continue to keep the issue under consideration, particularly in areas such as Shetland.