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Concerns over sub-standard grounds as League of Ireland players raise issues with behind closed doors proposals

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League of Ireland games could be played behind closed doors later in the year. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

League of Ireland games could be played behind closed doors later in the year. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

League of Ireland games could be played behind closed doors later in the year. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI officials have told League of Ireland stakeholders to consider the real possibility that they may not be able to fully open their stadiums to supporters until next year.

And players have asked Abbotstown officials to consider advocating groundsharing solutions if some stadiums are deemed unfit to deal with public health regulations that will be in place for the foreseeable future.

Last night’s publication of a roadmap has raised hopes that league football could return behind closed doors on July 20 and in front of a limited number of spectators from August 10.

But that is all dependent on the green light from HSE and Government, and the ability of venues to satisfy distancing recommendations and have adequate facilities to deal with hygiene under Covid-19 requirements.

The FAI asked for feedback from clubs, referees and players and the latter grouping have highlighted concerns about older grounds with extremely limited changing and shower and bathroom facilities.

If the idea of closed doors games – with a gradual transition to restricted crowds – is to get off the ground, then it’s expected there will be a push from the protagonists to rule out certain venues unless they undergo serious refurbishments.

This is from the perspective of players and refs but would also become relevant in terms of the volume of spectators that would be legally allowed from August if all went to plan.

The cost of bringing stadiums up to a standard where they could be safe is just one of the reasons that a majority of clubs remain opposed to closed doors games under the current conditions.

Other key issues to be ironed out include insurance, the status of amateur players in the First Division, the weight of responsibility that would be placed on volunteers and the loss of commercial income on top of reduced matchday revenues.

While Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers are in favour of exploring the concept and Derry City are broadly on the same page – although their geographical position could result to complexities with the definition of guidelines – their counterparts around the league need convincing.

The FAI are aware that the volume of opposition may derail any proposal but they want clubs to wait until details of support from FIFA is finalised before taking a definitive stance – the absence of that information has frustrated decision makers around the country.

Streaming deals sold to fans both home and abroad are an essential aspect of the closed doors strategy.

Games would be spread across a week with a match almost every day as opposed to a regular Friday night with all fixtures running concurrently.

Last night’s publication of the roadmap has increased hopes that spectators could return before the year is out, but the terms and conditions would appear to fall well short of business as usual.

Clubs opposed to a closed-doors return this summer were pinning hopes on a scenario outlined last month which would see the season played out from September-February – in the hope crowds would be allowed back by then.

But the FAI were keen to convey the message that closed doors matches may be the only route by which that winter schedule comes to pass.

That falls in line with reports in England stating that teams in League One and League Two have been told to prepare for empty stadiums until next year.

As one source put it, "clubs have to get their heads around that closed doors could be the long term option".

The FAI have stressed to the parties involved that they are only laying out the picture as opposed to pushing people in a particular way.

But they want clubs to stop viewing closed doors football as just a short term measure when a version of it may be the only way that players get back on the pitch this year.

Online Editors