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FAI tells League of Ireland clubs that behind-closed-doors games may be the only option in 2020

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Shamrock Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne, right, says a return to action behind closed doors could be the only option this year

Shamrock Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne, right, says a return to action behind closed doors could be the only option this year

Shamrock Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne, right, says a return to action behind closed doors could be the only option this year

FAI officials have told League of Ireland stakeholders to consider the real possibility that closed doors football may be the only way for games to resume in 2020.

But they have asserted in the latest round of conference call meetings that it won't be an option if the HSE and government are dissatisfied with any proposal that is put together with the safety of protagonists the absolute priority.

Government measures announced on Friday evening indicated that team sports could resume on July 20 subject to limits on attendance and social distancing.

Behind closed doors sport where arrangements 'are in place to enable participants to maintain social distancing' are projected to kick off earlier than that on June 29.

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The final stage - which permits larger supporter gatherings - is factored to come into the equation from August 10 but that would also involve restrictions.

And earlier in the day, the FAI told club, player and referee representatives that it's plausible there will be no spectators in stadiums until next year.

Abbotstown officials need more time to collate facts and figures and give sceptical clubs an appraisal of how the concept might work after gathering a substantial level of feedback from all sectors of the game in response to an initial draft document produced earlier this week.

The majority of club officials feel the idea is impractical because of the financial implications and the further strain created by trying to properly manage testing and other Covid-19 related health measures.

Players and referees have also highlighted specific concerns.

The FAI are aware that the volume of opposition may down the proposal but they want league clubs to wait until details of support from FIFA is finalised before reaching a conclusion on the next course of action - the absence of that info has frustrated decision makers around the country.

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A general view of Dalymount Park, home of Bohemian Football Club. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

A general view of Dalymount Park, home of Bohemian Football Club. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

A general view of Dalymount Park, home of Bohemian Football Club. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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However, senior FAI figures have warned clubs that it's possible that spectators will not be able to return to stadia until 2021 in every scenario.

The option of a returning to action in September with a season running until February was an alternative route outlined in an FAI statement last month.

That was the preference of some clubs who have taken a strong stance against closed doors football this summer.

June 19 was the initial date in the diary, but the formal extension of restrictions for a further two weeks will have a knock-on effect with non-contact training in small groups unable to begin until May 18 at the earliest - and the roadmap released by government tonight suggesting that closed doors soccer and GAA games would only be realistically be possible from July 20 onwards.

While the FAI have stressed they will let league members decide the path forward, they have conveyed the message that closed doors matches could be the only way that the September-February season comes to pass.

In other words, as one source put it, "clubs have to get their heads around that closed doors could be the long term option" - therefore meaning it will have to be given serious consideration down the line even if it's concluded that moves that way in the coming weeks would be premature.

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.

Practices in other leagues will be monitored, but the best case scenario would be gradually opening stadiums with a limited capacity, thus meaning clubs would still face considerable budget shortfalls.

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

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

Yet there are numerous details to be ironed out including insurance, the appointment of a Covid-19 officer to each club, the impact on players' unemployment payments if they want to train with their teams without a firm date on games restarting, and the position of amateur players at First Division sides with no desire to come back.

Clubs have also articulated fears about the weight of responsibility that would be placed on the shoulders of volunteers.

The league's top two clubs, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, are in favour of exploring the concept of staging games without fans.

Derry City are also broadly on the same page - although their geographical position could result in complexities with the definition of guidelines across jurisdictions.

Other clubs have cited the above factors and the loss of vital commercial income as reasons to rule out closed-doors fixtures.

It remains to be seen if their position is altered if it's the only way back onto the pitch this year.

In response to the latest Government announcement, the FAI on Friday evening, issued the following statement:

"The Football Association of Ireland has extended the cessation order for all football under its jurisdiction until May 18th inclusive, following the latest directives from Government and the Department of Health.

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The FAI's headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin

The FAI's headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin

The FAI's headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin

"The Association will now examine what this lockdown extension and the guidelines published in the Government’s ‘Roadmap For Reopening Society and Business’ mean for all stakeholders at all levels of the game. The FAI will move to evaluate the implications and update stakeholders from all strands of football as soon as feasible.

"The decision to extend the cessation order for all football until May 18th has been taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the best interests of our players, coaches, volunteers, supporters and staff.

"FAI Medical Director Dr Alan Byrne has again advised the FAI that in the current exceptional circumstances, clubs should not engage in collective training during the cessation period for all football activity under the FAI’s jurisdiction.

"The FAI is in constant communication with the Department of Health and UEFA on COVID-19 and will continue to follow all government guidelines. The Association advises all members, volunteers and stakeholders to respect the HSE guidelines on social distancing during this pandemic.

"The Association also appeals to everyone involved with Irish football to stay at home over the May Bank Holiday weekend."


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