Jose Mourinho, Sir Ben Ainslie, Tyson Fury and Zara and Mike Tindall have added their names to a list of more than 100 sporting personalities and professionals to endorse the Telegraph ‘s “Keep Kids Active in Lockdown” campaign.
Tyrone Mings, Graham Gooch, Tracey Neville and Tim Henman were also among a second wave of signatories to a letter from the Telegraph to Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, asking for under-18s outdoor sport to be exempt from the second national coronavirus lockdown.
The growing pressure on ministers came as the Government made its first policy shift on children’s sport since the campaign launched.
Following lobbying from DCMS officials, the Department for Education issued new guidelines to schools instructing them to put an hour a day aside for physical activity “wherever possible”, as well as permitting them to bring in “external coaches” and to continue to offer before and after-school clubs for those children whose parents work full-time.
That was after two MPs revealed they were seeking an urgent parliamentary debate as a result of the Telegraph campaign, there were calls for England to follow Scotland’s lead by exempting under-12s from strict social-distancing rules and new claims by doctors about a link between playing football and rugby and improved immunity from Covid-19.
The sheer strength of feeling the children’s sport ban has provoked was demonstrated by the high-profile sports figures who lined up to add their backing to the Telegraph with Mike Gatting, Greg Rusedski and Chrissie Wellington also adding their support ahead of the new restrictions coming into force at midnight on Wednesday night.
“I read about the Telegraph campaign and you can write my name on it,” Mourinho said on Wednesday. “This is a cause that I feel really, really on the kids’ side, on the kids’ parents’ side. I understand perfectly, it is one of the situations where it should be done in a different way.
“Today is one of two special days in the year for me. It’s my daughter’s birthday. She is not a kid any more, she is 24, but I still look at my two kids as kids, and I am totally on the kids’ side.”
Mourinho was joined by Aston Villa and England defender Mings, who runs the Tyrone Mings Academy for young footballers aged between six and 16 in the South- West and Midlands area and has also supported mental health campaigns alongside the Duke of Cambridge.
Ainslie said he “wholeheartedly” backed the campaign. “Growing up in Cornwall as a boy sailing was my passion. Not only was it fun, it was an escape, it was exciting.
“It taught me about responsibility, about teamwork. It allowed me to explore and to test my limits. And of course it kept me active. It’s vital that this generation of children do not lose the opportunity to be active; to get out there and explore their own limits.”
Despite attempting to ensure children would be more physically active during the school day, the Government’s new guidelines were criticised on Wednesday by the Youth Sport Trust.
Its chief executive, Ali Oliver, said: “Government’s latest guidance has rightly confirmed that physical education can, and should, still go ahead during the lockdown. However the clampdown on extracurricular sport – except for childcare purposes – is hugely confusing and counterproductive.
“Children will be deprived of sport outside of school during this lockdown. They should not be deprived of extracurricular sport within school too.”
Ministers were also facing further questions from MPs, with Ben Bradley, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sport, revealing he was applying for an urgent parliamentary debate on the children’s sport ban.
He said: “The scientists have been clear, speaking to MPs, that they’ve not recommended shutting down outdoor youth sports. They’ve said there is no scientific basis for it.
“It’s clear from the Telegraph campaign and others that there’s a real appetite for these sports to continue.”
Damian Collins, the former chair of the DCMS select committee, also said he wanted a parliamentary debate on the ban, while Alice Ferguson, director at Playing Out, which fights to protect child access to the outdoors, called for England to follow Scotland’s lead by exempting under-12s. “When it is more difficult for them to be doing organised activities and team sports, it’s so important that they have still got access to that kind of very natural, simple way of being outside and being physically active,” Ferguson said.
“Nicola Sturgeon quite early on said that, on balance, the evidence points in the direction that children under 12 shouldn’t have to distance when outside.”
The Telegraph campaign has also been backed by two sporting doctors: Dr Steffan Griffin, who has held clinical roles with London Irish, Chelsea and West Ham United, and Dr Andrew Murray, the chief medical officer for European Tour golf.