Waiting game continues for 'behind closed door' funding plan

By Liam Mackey
Soccer Correspondent

The hope now is that progress can continue to be made behind the scenes in the next couple of weeks.
The hope now is that progress can continue to be made behind the scenes in the next couple of weeks.

The FAI have asked League of Ireland clubs to give them more time to come back with firm proposals for the resumption of football behind closed doors.

The latest teleconference meeting between the clubs and the governing body heard that details of any financial package to support the initiative are not now expected to be put on the table for another fortnight.

In the absence of concrete information on funding, frustration had been growing among the clubs, with the Premier Division seemingly increasingly divided on the feasibility, both on health and financial grounds, of games being played behind closed doors.

The hope now is that progress can continue to be made behind the scenes in the next couple of weeks.

The recent postponement of the next meeting of Uefa’s Executive Committee means the FAI have until June 17 to present their plans for a resumption of the elite game here to the European authorities.

Meanwhile, a survey by the Irish Supporters Network (ISN) has found that 52.7% of the fans who took part are in favour of League of Ireland football being played behind closed doors, with 47.3% against.

The poll of 857 respondents was conducted earlier this month.

Asked how supporters should be kept involved if closed games do proceed, 33.5% stated a preference for a fully-paid streaming service for everyone, while 31.1% thought that it should be free to certain sectors such as season ticket holders or club members.

While ISN said it is “fully supportive” of efforts to find the safest way back to playing football, it also stressed the need for discussion about planning “a pathway” for supporters to return to grounds in due course.

In a statement, the group said: “Supporters are key stakeholders in the League of Ireland, and our clubs — literally — would not survive without the financial and volunteering contributions made right throughout the year and not just at grounds on match night.

“If League of Ireland fixtures become something supporters are excluded from, for whatever reason, without any consultation, the ‘loss of habit’ could have a permanent and devastating effect. And that’s something no one wants to see.”

Meanwhile, League of Ireland players are currently digesting the ‘return to training’ protocols which have been issued by the FAI’s medical director Dr Alan Byrne.

They offer detailed guidelines on everything from regular testing for Covid-19 to safety measures affecting travel, equipment, and training session content.

Given the reduction in players’ conditioning since the cessation of football, the document proposes a four to six-week period of training in advance of any planned return to competitive action.

June 8 has been set as the date when the four European-qualified clubs — Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and Derry City — can resume training ahead of a planned mini-tournament which, it is intended, will double as a pilot programme for the safe return of football generally.

An independent Covid-19 safety officer will be appointed to each club, and he or she will report on a daily basis to the club doctor and the FAI medical director “on the processes and procedures around the training facility and training session content”.

Players and staff from the four clubs are expected to undergo their first Covid-19 tests on Monday.

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