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'There's too much at stake' - FAI to 'come down hard' on clubs who breach pandemic protocols

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FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens says League of Ireland clubs who breach return-to-play protocols will be sanctioned. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens says League of Ireland clubs who breach return-to-play protocols will be sanctioned. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens says League of Ireland clubs who breach return-to-play protocols will be sanctioned. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Interim FAI CEO Gary Owens has said the association will come down hard on League of Ireland clubs if they find there has been any breach of return to play protocols.

Owens was speaking after it emerged that the first Waterford player who had shown symptoms of Covid-19 had tested negative for the disease.

A second player is awaiting test results with the club doctor Sinead Fitzpatrick resigning her role, stating it was the right cause of action 'when you feel things are very wrong' without going into specifics.

Waterford's game with Sligo Rovers last night was called off due to a cessation of activity in response to the scare.

The incident has raised eyebrows across the league as part of a broader debate about the comeback. In the event of the Waterford player that tested negative, a talking point is that he was injured but still travelled with the team to Saturday's win over Shelbourne.

Meanwhile, Derry City manager Declan Devine has called for all clubs to provide proof that new arrivals coming from a different jurisdiction have all complied with 14 day quarantine rules.

He made pointed comments after Monday's victory over St Patrick's Athletic.

Owens said that all matters will be reviewed. It's understood that the steering group which met regularly on Covid-19 matters during the shutdown will meet again tomorrow - the status of their regular meetings after the restart appeared to be unclear.

"We will come down hard on clubs, there is too much at stake," said Owens today. "We're trying to get dispensation for players for international games and European competitions. All of these messages going out from top to bottom are going to influence this. It's important we get it right. If we make any mistakes, there is a huge amount at stake.

"We’ll definitely have to think to sanctions for the people who are not following the protocols. There is no point putting them in if there are no sanctions if you ignore them.

"Why do we go back and resume? Because there are a lot of challenges, we may still have the same problems in January and we want to know how do we play games in a Covid-19 environment, how do we play behind closed doors, what would streaming look like, what protocols do we have, including this, because we were never going to get through a season without some challenge to someone being positive."

Owens said the FAI had placed responsibility on the Covid-19 officers appointed by each club.

"We have the officers and they go to all the matches. We can’t control what any of the players do at night, they can go to a party, they can go to a bar, so you just have no control over that," he said.

His deputy Niall Quinn added there were daily reports coming into the department managed by Dr Alan Byrne.

Owens said that the new WatchLOI streaming service had started well, performing better than expected.

"One of the things that surprised me (in FAI) was that the commercial value of the League of Ireland was very poor, it is a very poor proposition in its current guise," he said.

"It's even undervalued. Streaming goes with that and enhances it. The commercial value of the League of Ireland could be five or six times what it is today and ultimately streaming will add to it."

He added that the First Division could be included in any streaming service from 2021 but upgrades in certain grounds would be required to facilitate it from a technical perspective.

Online Editors