A meeting today of the FAI’s steering committee on the Covid-19 will discuss the health minister’s grim outlook on sport.
Stephen McGuinness, secretary of the PFAI, admitted the possibility of playing league matches behind closed doors will have to be explored.
“I had a lot of our members onto me following the minister’s comments and there will have to be discussions with the FAI this week,” he admitted.
Last Wednesday, following a videoconference of the Premier Clubs Alliance (PCA), chairman Noel Byrne wrote to league director Fran Gavin seeking clarification on the status of player contracts. The effects of the pandemic already forced the FAI a month ago to prolong their league season from late October to December.
That prediction was working off a resumption of date of June 19, one not yet officially abandoned by the FAI but considered unrealistic by clubs based on the signals from government, even before Simon Harris’s latest pessimistic declaration. That was the general feeling to emerge from the clubs’ discussions, prompting them to seek from Gavin direction on contracts.
As most players in the league still operate on 12-month deals, confusion surrounds whether they become free agents in October on the original campaign end date. The same query was raised in relation to players who’ve arrived on loan deals, specifically if their registrations will be extended.
Still, fears are increasing with each passing week that the 2020 season will be declared null and void.
In the absence of a broadcasting deal of any real worth to clubs, reliance on matchday income is essential for their viability. That’s why the possibility of replicating the moves by the major leagues in England and Germany to host matches behind closed doors had been so opposed..
Shamrock Rovers cited the lack of game revenue in last week’s announcement of a 25% paycut for players and staff.
Eyes will now turn towards champions Dundalk whose board vowed on March 24 to continue paying their employees.
Most clubs are availing of the Government’s wage subsidy scheme to maintain salaries during this lull but the likelihood of that scheme being maintained until fixtures restart is deemed remote.
There were some encouraging noises from the FAI last week by advising clubs that League of Ireland players could be allowed return to training in May.
That easing of the restrictions, based upon the players being bracketed with other ‘elite’ athletes in sport, in no way provides a guaranteed timeline for fixtures resuming.
Although average attendances in the league have in recent years improved, they are still relatively moderate, generating some hope that social distances measures could be implemented in the stands and the terraces.