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'If we moved games to one stadium, would that be a way forward?' - Aviva in LOI frame as Quinn hints at neutral solution

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The Aviva Stadium has emerged as a potential neutral venue to restart the 2020 League of Ireland season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Aviva Stadium has emerged as a potential neutral venue to restart the 2020 League of Ireland season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

The Aviva Stadium has emerged as a potential neutral venue to restart the 2020 League of Ireland season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The FAI have discussed the option of using the Aviva Stadium to play League of Ireland games if it would help the season to get back underway. 

Interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn told 2FM this evening that the use of a 'neutral venue' is an angle that is being considered as a 'return to play' option although the lack of a clarity around finances and the pushback of the GAA calendar has placed further doubt over domestic football's plans to resume by July 20.

However, Quinn has asserted that the fact that players are paid in his sport means that the FAI have to try to look at 'acceptable solutions' to salvage the 2020 campaign.

The former Ireland striker did not mention the Aviva by name but independent.ie understands that the stadium has been mentioned in discussions across the last 24 hours.

While the cost of opening the ground is significant, it is often calculated in terms of the security personnel required to host spectators which wouldn't be as big a factor in this instance and that's why it has not been definitively ruled out.

In recent weeks, the Aviva has put itself forward as a testing centre for coronavirus and the Dublin 4 facility may also be called into the Leaving Cert effort.

The advantage of operating the Aviva would be the modern facilities which would allay concerns about the safety of other grounds in terms of hygiene and space for players and officials in light of Covid-19 requirements. It would also be a more attractive backdrop for streaming purposes.

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Last Saturday's Irish Independent reported that players had flagged concerns about specific grounds, and the range of options on the table goes beyond just the Aviva.

Indeed, it might only be considered as a base for eastern based outfits along with Tallaght - while Turner's Cross, Galway/Sligo and The Brandywell have also been floated from a regional perspective.

It would raise concerns about travel for those teams who wouldn't be able to play in their locality, but giving this option consideration is viewed as a Plan A compared to the alternative which could be no football at all until 2021.

That remains the doomsday scenario because of the contract chaos it would cause for professional players, and there is also resistance to the idea because there is no certainty that Covid-19 will be out of the equation by then.

As it stands, the FAI are seeking detail from government about what the various phases of emerging from lockdown mean for their sport.

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Interim FAI CEO Niall Quinn. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Interim FAI CEO Niall Quinn. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Interim FAI CEO Niall Quinn. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"We're tentatively looking at what those dates meant," Quinn told Game On.

"We're working, in the first instance, with Dr Alan Byrne our medical officer. Even this evening he's talking with HSE officials about what it means for the game.

"There is a big worry out there and we went to all the clubs and asked them for their feedback and what potentially playing behind closed doors and what it would mean to them and how difficult it would be.

"There was a big concern about the medical safety of players, so we're looking at how we can intervene with that. If we moved the games, for instance, into one stadium as opposed to all the stadiums, could we have a professional medical outlet that could come in and do a job that would satisfy our players and satisfy everyone who had to be in the stadium, would that be the way forward, if we all had it in one place and the games were played in a neutral venue?

"Those are the things we're looking at, that may help. But ultimately it will be the HSE and government who decide if we can do that at all. It's not football on its own here, it's society in general and rather than be selfish and think it's just us, we have to follow orders."

Quinn was asked what would happen if clubs didn't agree to a comeback and he conceded that was a plausible scenario given the opposition that exists at the moment due to queries raised about safety and the absence of detail about what support may be available from FIFA in the form of compensation for lost matchday revenues.

The FAI have admitted they don't have all the relevant information yet.

"If we don't have enough of a financial enticement for them to come and they're not certain about medical standards and what could happen - because a lot of the clubs just have volunteers, and they're worried about volunteers administering responsibility on that side - we are trying to remove all of that before saying to them to make a final decision. We (have to) come up with a number that we think is affordable for the clubs.

"If that works, great. If it doesn't, we have to move on and wait a little bit longer to get back, when it's returned to a normal time, and that could be a long time down the road as you know. That's Plan B obviously," continued Quinn, who said they are mindful of the needs of the four European participants who may still be asked to play lucrative qualifiers in 2020.

"It's a very worrying time for LOI clubs and we recognise that as an association," he said.

"We're trying to find as soft a landing as possible for the clubs in this terrible time. There is a real issue with us that the GAA don't have and that's the payment of players and the livelihood of the footballers who play and make it a full-time job for themselves.

"We are trying to find a way that that can carry on and they don't all get laid off, as you've seen some of our clubs have had to do that already.

"To get back playing, the players will have to get fit again, they will have to know they are in a medically safe environment and we have to have some reason financially for the clubs to bring it all together.

"It is worrying and our choices aren't great at the moment, but we do hope there is a will out there that people would actually watch League of Ireland games if we got them out there.

"There is also an international audience we can look at and it does bode well in the conversations we're having, not just with streaming companies but with marketing companies and global marketing companies at that, that there would be a future for the product whatever happens when we come out of coronavirus.

"We just hope there will be enough of an underwrite, if you like, that the clubs will see the value of coming back, if and when the HSE allow it to happen."

Online Editors