Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to provide support to protect the mental health of football supporters unable to attend matches.
Scottish football fans have been shut out of stadiums as capacity restrictions were reintroduced on large events in response to a rising number of cases of the Omicron variant.
The changes prompted the SPFL to bring forward its scheduled winter break, with Premiership matches being postponed.
It includes the Old Firm match at Celtic Park which was due to be held on January 2, but will now be played a month later.
The mental health impact of football in Scotland was highlighted during the First Minister’s Covid update to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.
Scottish Conservative MSP Sandesh Gulhane, a GP and his party’s health and social care spokesperson, raised the issue.
“We know the dangers posed by Omicron and the balance that needs to be struck, but people struggle with the inconsistencies,” Gulhane told the First Minister.
“Rangers fans were saying Asda was busier than Ibrox and Celtic fans were also distraught knowing that shopping streets and malls across the country were heaving in comparison to football stadia.
“My question is, does the First Minister understand the value, the societal role Scottish football plays in the mental health of hundreds of thousands of people in our communities?
“And will the government provide additional support to protect the mental health of fans?”
Sturgeon said that decisions taken during the pandemic have not been taken lightly.
She responded: “Yes, I do understand the importance of sport, football and indeed other spectator sport.
“I think the benefits of that are seen in terms of mental health and in a whole host of other ways.
“So, nobody, including me, takes the decisions that we’ve had to take over the course of this pandemic lightly.
“I’ve tried to set out the rationale for limiting large-scale events. It is about the super-spreading nature of big events given the higher transmissibility of Omicron.
“But also the greater impact that these events have on emergency services that are already stretched and some of the risks associated with travel to and from events.
“So it’s not easy, nobody wants to be in this position, but these are the reasons why the Scottish Government, in common with many other governments, have taken these decisions and hopefully they will not last for very long.”
The First Minister reiterated the advice for people to limit their contact with other households.
She continued: “There is always the ability to point to inconsistencies, I’m never sure when questions like that are posed to me whether the argument is that we should not have restrictions in football or we should also have restrictions on shopping malls.
“We want to limit and minimise the protections that are in place and therefore the restrictions on people’s lives.
“But, I would ask people to remember that our core, the bedrock of the advice that we’re giving right now, is to stay at home as much as you can, certainly more than would normally be the case at this time of year.
“To try to limit your contacts with people in other households and keep those contacts where they are happening as small as possible so that applies regardless of the setting.”
Sturgeon also acknowledged the impact of restrictions on people’s lives.
She added: “There is no magic wand to wave to get ourselves out of that, the closest we’ve got to that is vaccination which is why that remains so important.”