Football Spectator Attendance: Covid-19 — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:32 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:32 pm, 9th November 2020

As my hon. Friend, who represents Brentford very well—the football club and the constituency—says, clubs have spent money on it. They all hired covid officers. I was lucky to be shown around the New Den by the chief executive of Millwall. I was so impressed by all the work that the club had done to prep for the regulations.

The position that football has been put in compared with other large events is hard to understand, so I did a bit of digging and looked a little deeper into the scientific advice that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport commissioned from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. I found out that, preparing for the potential return of supporters, DCMS commissioned advice from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, which is the behavioural sub-committee of SAGE. That advice, which anybody can read—it is on the SAGE website—goes through different things concerning large sports. It does not specifically focus on football, but the characteristics seem to tie in well with it.

Even in August, the advice from SAGE to DCMS was:

“The easing of some aspects of lockdown, which took place on July 4th… was preceded by a considerable media fanfare… as well as a public discussion about whether the 2 metre rule would be changed.”

To paraphrase the advice, all those trends in the media were contemporaneous with several factors, all of which could have contributed to the decline in compliance with distancing measures. It said that the trends could include

“decline in trust in the government”,

a declining

“sense of national togetherness… and decline in perceived risk”.

In August, SAGE was warning DCMS that this might not go so well. How did the Minister help football at that time to understand the situation that we were really in, what discussions has he had with SAGE directly, and what discussions did he have with stakeholders to help them to understand the problems that we faced and how the Government planned to get us out of a situation where the environment through the summer was counteracting some of the compliance measures that we needed to see, as the report from SAGE says?

Can the Minister explain how DCMS plans to, from this point, encourage and help football clubs to plan for what could happen in the future? At the moment, they feel as if they have been left hanging and some people wonder whether DCMS is really in control or decisions are being taken centrally by the Cabinet and No. 10. If that is the case, can he explain how the decision will be taken to get supporters back into grounds?

People have pointed out the inconsistencies, comparing football with other things. I am not one to set up sport against the arts. Both are great in this country and both should be able to move forward together, but the difference is that we, as football supporters, have been treated differently since the 1980s. I had understood that we were on a journey out of those worst times towards football supporters in this country being able to get proper respect, policing by consent and support from the Government.

As the Minister will have heard from Members across the House, football is universally a positive activity in Members’ constituencies. If he really wants to prove that football will not be permanently treated differently in this country, can he explain, as Members have asked, what the plan is to get supporters back into grounds?