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Government is ‘deflecting blame’ to footballers, says Andros Townsend

The health secretary said footballers should “play their part” and take a wage cut to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Andros Townsend has come to the defence of fellow footballers and the PFA (John Walton/PA)

Andros Townsend has come to the defence of fellow footballers and the PFA (John Walton/PA)

Andros Townsend has come to the defence of fellow footballers and the PFA (John Walton/PA)

Health secretary Matt Hancock is “deflecting blame” onto footballers by saying they should take a pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend.

Hancock, who is part of a Government which has been criticised over its response to the Covid-19 outbreak, spoke out on the issue of Premier League players’ pay on Thursday night.

He said at a daily briefing on the pandemic: “Given the sacrifices that many people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS who have made the ultimate sacrifice of going into work and have caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.”

Talks are ongoing between players’ union the Professional Footballers Association, the Premier League and the English Football League over the possibility of wage cuts or deferrals to keep afloat clubs who are struggling financially due to the crisis.

The PFA is not against the idea of deferrals, but is adamant that players should only make any kind of salary sacrifice where there is a genuine need.

Townsend said footballers were an “easy target” and pointed to the charitable work he and some of his peers had been involved in since the pandemic began.

“Football is trying to do a lot of good. To wake up yesterday and see footballers being painted as villains was a bit of a surprise,” he told talkSPORT.

“The health secretary, deflecting blame onto footballers. I don’t think that is right. His job is the responsibility of NHS workers.

“NHS workers have been underpaid for years. Only 2,000 of them have been able to be tested for coronavirus. This is not right, these people are putting their lives on the line to try and save lives.

“He is coming out and deflecting onto the easy targets, the footballers, and that doesn’t sit right with me.

“We do have a responsibility but we are giving back to the community and rightly so. We are in a very privileged position. The community effectively pay our wages.

“At a time like this we need to give back.”

Townsend said he agreed with the PFA’s stance – that if clubs can afford to continue to pay their non-playing staff without furloughing, then they should.

Tottenham are among the Premier League clubs looking to utilise the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, which allows for employees who have been placed on furlough leave to be paid 80 per cent of their monthly salary up to a maximum of £2,500, if that employee’s work has been materially affected by the pandemic.

“If the players end up agreeing to a pay cut or deferral and a few days later the PFA find out that these clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff and are choosing not to, then who benefits?” Townsend said.

“The NHS are not benefiting, these heroes are not benefiting. If the clubs can continue to pay them and are choosing not to then it is only those clubs that are benefiting.

“The PFA are doing their jobs, they are making sure that these clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff before any decision is made.”

Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, said on Thursday that clubs which do not institute wage cuts for players but do try to take advantage of the job retention scheme should be subject to a windfall tax.

“The purpose of the coronavirus job retention scheme is not to support the economics of Premier League clubs,” Knight wrote in a letter to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.

“Your organisation should be role modelling a responsible approach rather than tolerating divisive practices.”

A decision is also expected today concerning the further suspension of English professional football.

Currently, the agreement is that football cannot return until April 30 at the earliest, but that date was put in place before the country was put into lockdown to limit the spread of the virus.

PA