England lockdown: Redfaced Michael Gove apologises for wrongly claiming tennis and golf will be allowed

Correction comes just two days after No 10 slapped down key minister for suggesting lockdown could be extended

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 03 November 2020 18:08
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Michael Gove wrongly claims tennis and golf will be allowed

An embarrassed Michael Gove has apologised for getting his own lockdown rules wrong by claiming tennis and golf will escape a ban.

The Cabinet Office minister – one of the “quad” of Boris Johnson’s senior team in deciding on the new shutdown – suggested the sports could be allowed with one other person.

“You’ll probably be able to play singles tennis,” he told constituents on Facebook, adding: “If people are properly socially distanced, they can take exercise with one other person.

“We are looking at allowing people to play on golf courses with one other appropriately distanced. The same would apply to tennis, if you are playing tennis out of doors.”

But Mr Gove issued a correction after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport made it clear there was no suggestion of an exemption for the two sports.

“My apologies, I got this wrong. Outdoor leisure facilities including tennis courts and golf courses will be closed from Thursday,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, local government secretary Robert Jenrick also got details of the new rules wrong, telling BBC Breakfast: “You can go out with your own household, or with your own household plus one other person and walk the dog, go for a run, go for a walk around the town or city where you live or to the countryside...”

In fact, as Downing Street later confirmed, the new rules allow only one member of a household or support bubble to take exercise with one person from outside it. Members of households and support bubbles can exercise together. And children under school age are exempted from the rule, enabling new parents to meet up with one person from outside their household or bubble for a walk with a pram.

Mr Gove’s backtrack comes just two days after No 10 slapped him down for suggesting the entire four-week lockdown could be extended, angering Tory MPs.

He put the 2 December expiry plan in doubt by calling it a “review” date – not an end date – saying: “We’ll always be driven by the data.”

But Downing Street quickly made clear the measures would last for 27 days, after which a return to the three-tier regional approach was planned.

The confusion follows growing criticism of the decision to suspend all children’s grassroots sport played outside of school, from Thursday.

Robbie Savage, the former Wales footballer who coaches a junior team, urged sports secretary Oliver Dowden to think again, tweeting: “Have you or any of your senior government officials been to a grassroots game since lockdown?

“Do you have any idea what it’s like for thousands of grassroots volunteers? Do you know the impact of this decision on youngsters’ mental and physical wellbeing?”

Ali Oliver, chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust, warned that less than a quarter of secondary schools provide some form of physical education.

“To lose some grassroots clubs will leave us with a legacy of a generation who are inactive and unable to find a way into sport,” she said.

But Mr Jenrick insisted the ban was necessary, saying: “I think there are risks in encouraging children to mix with others outside of their bubble.

“Obviously, that does increase, quite significantly, the contacts that they have and the transmission of the virus.” 

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