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Coronavirus: Football has a duty to help protect vulnerable people, says Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey


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David Jeffrey

David Jeffrey

�INPHO/Brian Little

David Jeffrey

Irish League legend David Jeffrey believes the Irish FA have made the right decision to postpone Irish Premiership fixtures and all domestic football for the rest of the month.

The IFA announced yesterday that due "to the evolving situation around coronavirus" their board had suspended the current football season and that they expected games to restart on April 4.

A statement from Windsor Park added that the matter "will be kept under constant review" which could mean further postponements. The IFA also pointed out that "the decision had been made with public health and the health and safety of players, match officials, staff and volunteers front of mind".

Some questions were asked why the IFA waited until after the English Premier League and the Northern Amateur Football League here had made the call to cancel games, but regardless of the timing Ballymena United boss Jeffrey insisted it was the correct stance to take.

Jeffrey, who is a senior social worker, said: "I believe the right decision has been made to call off the football matches across Northern Ireland at this point.

"In the recent period we have been encouraging our players to behave responsibly and to carry out all the precautions in the medical guidelines.

"They, as young men, may not be at the greatest risk but being a senior social worker who works with older people, people with physical disabilities and vulnerable people with underlying health conditions, it is important that we do all we can to contribute to one less person being adversely affected by this in any way. We all need to do that and football should do that."

Sport across Northern Ireland and around the world has gone into shut-down in the wake of Covid-19. Rugby, GAA, hockey and ice hockey games in Ulster have all been cancelled while The Masters, golf's first Major scheduled for April, has been postponed.

Jeffrey, viewed as a figurehead of Irish League football, stated: “From a sporting level it may be disappointing and frustrating but you have to look at the wider picture here and there are much more important things than football and sport and we must do all we can to help at this time.”

The former Linfield boss added: “In terms of how we cope and adapt at Ballymena, we will obviously be taking medical advice and guidance. We may look at individual programmes for players rather than bringing players together with the expectation that they keep themselves as fit as they can be.”

Many Irish League clubs need gate money to survive. Without funds coming in for weeks and potentially months, that will lead to difficulty for some.

Jeffrey feels the Irish FA and the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) need to be pro-active in this regard, helping clubs as much as possible.

He said: “Irish League football is an occupation for folk involved in the game. It has been interesting to note that government is putting money aside for people not being able to work or earn.

“I would have thought that through the Irish FA and NIFL, clubs could be compensated and helped. While it is a sport, it is also business.

“I would suggest that there could be some form of financial help and support for clubs through this period. I would like to think that the IFA and NIFL would be pro-active on this and look at the practicalities.

“We have some players whereby playing in Irish League football is their only form of income. Consideration has to be given to that by government.”

The IFA statement, released just before 1pm outlining their decision, read: “The Irish FA board has met today. In response to the evolving situation around coronavirus (Covid-19), and having listened to partners throughout the football family, the board has suspended the current football season, at both domestic and grassroots level.

“The decision has been made with public health but, equally, the health and safety of players, match officials, staff and volunteers front of mind.

“We expect games to restart on Saturday, April 4, 2020. The matter will be kept under constant review.

“This means no affiliated football will be played in Northern Ireland until that time.”

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