Sunak: Football fans don’t want to hear Gary Neville discuss politics

Published by Scott Challinor on December 20th 2022, 12:01am

Responding to former England footballer turned pundit Gary Neville’s attack on the UK government live on ITV, prime minister Rishi Sunak has suggested that audiences tuning in to watch football don’t want to hear political discussions.

Sunak was responding to Neville’s comments on ITV ahead of Sunday’s FIFA World Cup final, in which the latter criticised working conditions in Qatar but went on to compare them to the UK and criticise the Tory government.

Throughout the build-up to the World Cup and the tournament itself, Qatar has come under fire for its treatment of migrant workers who helped build the infrastructure necessary to host the competition.

Labour member Neville, a prominent critic of the Conservatives, said on air that the “abhorrent” working conditions in Qatar should not be accepted anywhere and accused the UK government of “demonising” rail workers and nurses.

Public sector workers in the UK have recently been staging industrial action over pay and conditions, with more walkouts to come.

Neville said: “It (working conditions in Qatar) is abhorrent, and we should detest low pay, detest low pay, poor accommodation and poor working conditions. That is something we can never ever accept in this region or in any region.

“It is just worth mentioning that we've got a current government in our country, who are demonising rail workers, ambulance workers and terrifyingly, nurses. So, in our country, we've got to look at workers' rights but certainly where football goes now, we have to pick up on workers' rights wherever we go because people have to be equally treated.

“We can't have people being paid a pittance to work, we can't have people in accommodation which is unsavoury and disgusting, we can't have that. It shouldn't happen with the wealth that exists and it shouldn't happen in our country that our nurses are having to fight for an extra pound or two pounds.”

Taking a swipe back at Neville’s comments in an interview with the Daily Mail, Sunak encouraged the former England man to stick to football.

He said: “I think when most people are tuning in to watch Gary Neville they want to hear about the football and watch the football. They don't want to discuss politics.”

The PM also pointed out that NHS staff had been awarded a pay rise in 2021 when the rest of the public sector was subject to a pay freeze.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s official spokesman hit out at the comparison, saying that it was not “legitimate or appropriate”.

Neville himself has drawn criticism for the fact that in the backdrop of his comments, he had accepted an offer to work with Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports as a pundit.

Other Tory MPs also took aim at Neville, with Simon Clarke suggesting that it was “beyond ridiculous” for ITV to give him free rein to “overtly politicise a major sporting event.”

Clarke added: “Quite apart from the fact every nurse is receiving a pay rise of £1400, to compare workers' rights in Qatar with the UK is grotesque.”

Lee Anderson, the Conservative MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, labelled Neville’s comments a “party political broadcast by a millionaire” and called on the pundit to “keep your nose out of politics”.

Even Labour has distanced itself from the comments, with Labour MP Rushanara Ali saying that the UK and Qatar are “very different societies and countries” and questioning the comparison.

ITV has also said in its own statement that Neville was “expressing his own personal views” which “were not endorsed by ITV.”

Media watchdog Ofcom has not yet said whether it will act against Neville and ITV after having received complaints. 

Image by HM Treasury and Rishi Sunak - , OGL 3, on Wikimedia Commons

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
December 20th 2022, 12:01am

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