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COVID has hit sport for six, warns Lord ‘Beefy’ Botham in maiden parliamentary speech

Written by on 3 November 2020

In his cricketing heyday, when the larger-than-life all-rounder Ian “Beefy” Botham came out to bat at Lord’s, he emptied the bars.

But in his debut at another Lords, for his maiden speech in parliament’s upper house, the newly-ennobled Baron Botham had to make do with a video-link.

And to make matters worse for a cricketing superstar who markets his own wine range – and for his fans – parliament’s bars are shut these days because of coronavirus restrictions.

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The crossbench peer made his maiden speech via video-link

Predictably, the theme of Lord Botham’s speech was how COVID-19 had hit sport and charities for six and a plea to the government to let spectators return in a safe manner.

In his four-minute speech, “Lord Beefy” said: “My whole life has revolved around sport – football, golf, fishing to name a few, and a bit of cricket.

“Sport has been more than a game to me. It has been my life. It’s given me life-structure, focus and kept me both physically and mentally fit.

“It’s no secret that I’m a passionate and strong-willed man who will fight for the causes close to my heart – be it sport, charity, countryside and the world we are now living.”

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He said that as chairman of Durham County Cricket Club he had followed the way the pandemic had affected sports grounds and countless people.

He said Durham’s annual turnover was down 35% and this had sadly led to job losses.

“We need to get these grounds open again to spectators in a controlled and safe manner,” he pleaded.

Speaking in a debate on non-domestic rating regulations, Lord Botham urged the government to provide 100% rate relief to community sports clubs to help them cope with coronavirus.

Cancer and other diseases could only be defeated by investing in research, said the former cricketing big hitter, who sits as a crossbench peer despite his strongly pro-Brexit views.

COVID-19 had hit charities hard, he said.

“The impact of this will not only be felt now but also threatens to slow progress achieved in research,” he warned.

Having got off the mark with his maiden speech, Lord Botham clearly sees his peerage as a long innings rather than a cameo, saying he hoped to use his time in the Lords to continue supporting charities and the “invaluable work they do”.

He told peers: “I am very much looking forward to contributing more in the House on the topics mentioned and other matters close to my heart.”

The constraints of the video-link meant the speech wasn’t like the swashbuckling Botham of old.

“It was more like watching Geoffrey Boycott than Ben Stokes,” one House of Lords sage said, rather unkindly.

Boris Johnson pictured with Sir Ian Botham in 2016
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The ex-cricketer was given a peerage by Boris Johnson this summer

The former England captain, one of the greatest all-rounders in cricketing history and a prodigious fundraiser for charity, was awarded a peerage by Boris Johnson this summer.

After his maiden speech, the former Tory sports minister Lord Moynihan congratulated him on his “powerful and impressive” start to a long career in the Lords and paid tribute to “one of the greatest cricketing all-rounders of all time”.

Lord Moynihan said Lord Botham’s long-distance charity walks had given hope to “countless children, their families and friends”, adding: “It is clear from today’s speech that his time at the crease in this House will neither be wasted nor spent warming up.”

Responding for the government, Lord Greenhalgh, who was one of the prime minister’s deputies when he was London mayor, wore a Middlesex County Cricket Club tie for the occasion and paid tribute to the “brilliance of Botham”.

The minister recalled Beefy’s “moment of greatness” against the Australians at Headingley, in the Ashes test of 1981, and his “swashbuckling talent”.

And he said it was a pity Lord Botham could not be in the House, but he looked forward to fulfilling a “lifelong dream” of having a drink with him at Westminster when events allowed this to happen.

The goodwill shown to the cricketing hero in his absence suggests that when parliament’s proceedings get back to normal and “Beefy” rises to his feet again in the chamber, he’ll empty the bars just like the old days.