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'Despondency' in the air as clubs cold on FAI deal

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Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry expressed his concern. Photo: Tom Burke

Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry expressed his concern. Photo: Tom Burke

Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry expressed his concern. Photo: Tom Burke

Opposition TDs have called on the government to guarantee financial backing from the FAI for League of Ireland clubs who have been left cash-strapped due to the Covid-19 pandemic and who are unable to sign up to a return to action in the league until the FAI give more clarity on their financial package.

And Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry has put a series of questions to Shane Ross, Minister for Sport, querying the processes which saw FAI officials Roy Barrett, Gary Owens and Niall Quinn hired.

He expressed his concern that "the new FAI, in terms of process, procedure and governance, looks like the old FAI".

That barrage of questions from MacSharry came during an evening when football affairs, and the future of the LOI (which is the only summer league in Europe without a restart date), took centre stage at a Dáil debate.

The frosty reception given an hour earlier by club representatives to the FAI's sketchy restart plan, was noted.

Clubs will spend the weekend assessing the proposals, but the idea that the four clubs due to play in Europe share their UEFA grant money with the rest, and possibly have prize money cut to feed into the general pot, has not gone down well.

There is also a serious concern about the possibility of the First Division season resuming in 2020, and the LOI is today no closer to a restart date than it was last month.

The lack of firm detail, after weeks of talks, has frustrated many in the game and some politicians voiced that.

"The FAI don't have enough money, the league doesn't have enough money and I understand today the meeting with the clubs did not go great, there was a lot of despondency, as I understand it, from the clubs leaving and a lot of concern that clubs' existence may be in question," Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews, a self-proclaimed Shamrock Rovers supporter, told the Dáil.

Oxygen

"With the Covid pandemic, the clubs and the league are in ICU and on a ventilator, what they need is oxygen, cash flow."  

Party colleague Duncan Smith also touched on that. "There is an existential crisis here in the league and a sense of despondency, and who can blame them with how they have been treated by the FAI over the years, they have always been treated as last on the list for the investment and support they need," Smith said.

Club representatives were yesterday given some details (but not enough for many officials) of the FAI's plan for a resumption of the 2020 season, more information due today when the Covid-19 Steering Committee gathers for a meeting postponed from yesterday.

Four clubs (Bohemians, Derry City, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers) have been back in training since last Monday and the other senior teams are permitted to train from next Monday.

But what was flagged as D-day for the league yesterday passed with no agreement.

Clubs outside of the five who have committed to returning (the four teams due to play in Europe this summer plus Shelbourne) remain unconvinced by Ireland's attempt at England's Project Restart, due to the financial burden of resuming their season without gate receipts and with a severely reduced number of matches.

Minister Ross said in the Dáil last night that while the return to action in most European leagues (the Serbian league got what is believed to be its first mention in an Oireachtas debate) was welcome and encouraging, finance remains a worry.

"As with other sectors, soccer has been hit hard by this crisis," Ross said.

"Will further support be needed? Almost certainly yes. Not all sporting organisations have been affected to the same extent. The most acutely affected are those with summer seasons and heavily reliant on gate receipts."

He said the FAI's recovery plan was not yet in place "but I would be absolutely amazed if the League of Ireland was not part of that".

Meltdown

His junior minister, Brendan Griffin TD, said that the terms of the government's January bailout, which saved the FAI from meltdown, now had to include a package for the LOI.

"Minister Ross and I take the future of the League of Ireland very seriously, that's why we worked so hard to get that package of support in place for the FAI, to ensure there would be a future for the organisation and the League of Ireland as well," Griffin said.

"The supports provided to the FAI ensured that the league would be able to continue. Right now in our engagements with the NGBs, any support going to the FAI for this period will include the requirement to support the League of Ireland, we are fully supportive of the League and want to see it flourish."

Irish Independent