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'I'm not a football player': Spurrier walks back 'duck the ball' advice

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Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier has withdrawn her “tongue in cheek” advice for attendees at Saturday’s controversial Crows/Collingwood game not to touch the football if it comes near them, with her deputy claiming her comments were “taken out of context”.

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The chief public officer’s advice that fans at Saturday’s AFL game at Adelaide Oval should “duck and do not touch” the football if it leaves the field was “taken out of context”, according to her deputy, who says the ball should be safe to touch if hand sanitiser is used.

Speaking yesterday about SA Health’s decision to grant Collingwood players and staff an exemption to fly to Adelaide for the game, Spurrier said it was considered of “negligible risk” despite a Melbourne lockdown being extended for another week due to a COVID outbreak.

But when asked what would happen if the football left the field and entered the spectator area, Spurrier said: “If you are at Adelaide Oval and the ball comes towards you, my advice to you is to duck and do not touch that ball.”

The comments provoked a strong reaction on social media, with SA Health revising the advice this morning.

Spurrier herself fronted media to address the issue today, saying: “I would just like to touch on the ‘duck the ball’ issue, because I’m sure you’re going to ask me about it.”

“Just to reiterate, I’m not a football player and in fact whenever a ball comes towards me – whatever sort of ball, whether it’s a basketball or a football – my inclination is to duck,” she said.

“I’ve had a bit of an update from the more fooball-knowledgable people in my department today to tell me that there’s about 50 per cent of people that really try madly to get the ball – you know, those fans? – and 50 per cent that are like me and just duck.”

She clarified her advice was that “whenever you touch an object – and this is an object touched by I-don’t -know-how-many very sweaty men on a football field – sanitise your hands immediately”.

“Just go and sanitise your hands before you start eating your chips,” she said.

She added that this was “advice I’d give pre-or-post-COVID”.

However, she emphasised that “these players do not have COVID”.

“If anybody tests positive, the game would be cancelled [so] I’m perfectly comfortable with the ball,” she said, adding of her earlier advice: “Just take that [as] tongue in cheek.”

She said she was aware that her comments had inspired a social media “song”, which she said she would “add to my collection”.

Her Deputy chief public health officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick had earlier this morning defended the comments, which were widely reported and discussed online.

“I think it was just a comment that was taken out of context unfortunately,” Kirkpatrick told ABC Radio this morning.

“We do know that this is a very safe, very low risk activity taking place this weekend, and we do encourage those people who were planning to go to the game to still go to the game.

“I can understand why we do need to clarify.”

Kirkpatrick said anyone who touches the ball in the crowd should throw it back and seek out hand sanitiser from a COVID marshal at the ground.

“We do know that the ball is kicked in regularly into the crowd particularly behind the goals,” she said.

“So if it does come near you and you grab that mark and you get your face on TV, what we do advise is that you do throw it back in … and give your hands a hand sanitise.

“We have all the COVID marshals around the place who will be making sure there is adequate hand sanitiser available.”

She also defended SA Health’s exemptions committee’s decision to let Collingwood fly to Adelaide for the game.

“We do get a backlash that comes through from time to time regarding our exemption panel,” she said.

“We spent a number of days coming back to this particular application, we went out for additional advice and assistance from our infection control team, from our COVID management team, from our CDCB (Communicable Diseases Control Branch) to make sure that if we were going to allow the players to come over, we could make it as safe as possible.”

The reduced number of Collingwood players and staff granted the exemption are currently quarantining in Victoria and will have to undergo COVID-testing before they board a chartered plane to Adelaide on Saturday.

They will then fly out from Adelaide straight after their match.

Spurrier said on Wednesday the Collingwood players and staff “will not be coming into contact with anybody – any South Australian – except the players in the Crows team”.

Crows players will also need to get tested within 48 hours after the match and have their movement restricted in the 48 hours after the match.

There has been no change to Adelaide’s Oval’s COVID management plan which permits a full capacity crowd to attend Saturday’s match.

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