London, April 3: Andros Townsend has accused British politicians of "deflecting blame" on to footballers after they were urged by government officials to take a pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic.
Football is at a standstill across the world due to COVID-19, increasing the threat of financial problems for many clubs as they are unable to take in gate receipts as a way of income.
Some Premier League clubs have opted to make use of the government's furlough scheme, which leaves the state covering up to 80 per cent of wages to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
But utilising this has opened clubs up to criticism, with many people questioning why the British taxpayer is supporting top-level football teams when non-playing staff wages could be offset by high-earning players taking a temporary wage cut.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, suggested Premier League footballers should "carry the greatest burden", while Julian Knight – chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee – said the clubs are existing in a "moral vacuum".
But arguably the most high-profile critic was health secretary Matt Hancock, who, while leading the government's daily televised briefing on Thursday, said "the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution".
Crystal Palace winger Townsend, however, believes footballers are being used as "easy targets" during the crisis.
"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 to be honest," he told talkSPORT.
"I have never been more proud to be a footballer. Since this crisis started to see the work that the players and clubs have done in the community. At Palace, we have helped out the homeless, donated to local charities.
"Individual players are thinking about ways which they can help. I am involved in a campaign, Football United, raising money for the emergency trust. Marcus Rashford has helped feed over 400,000 school children in Manchester.
"The health secretary, deflecting blame onto footballers, I don't think that is right. His job is the responsibility of NHS workers. 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."
Part of the blame for the perceived lack of action by footballers and clubs has been laid at the door of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA).
But Townsend insists the union is acting behind the scenes and reminds detractors that there is no benefit to players' wages being cut or deferred if the club can actually afford to pay non-playing staff.
"We received an email two days ago from the PFA which said until they have all the information from clubs, not to be pressured into agreeing on anything," he added. "What that means is, until clubs have shown them financial details, until they know whether clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff, to not agree on anything.
"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? The NHS are not benefiting, these heroes are not benefiting.
"If the clubs can continue to pay them [non-playing staff] and are choosing not to, then it is only those clubs that are benefiting. The PFA is doing its job. They are making sure that these clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff before any decision is made."