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Coronavirus: Irish FA call on Stormont Executive to give financial support to Irish League clubs

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Irish Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to find the necessary funding to keep the domestic game alive and kicking.

Clubs are businesses and without any incomings they face a battle to survive.

The global coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to football everywhere, with the bizarre exception of Belarus, and in Northern Ireland clubs are taking a huge financial hit.

Coleraine and Crusaders were among the first clubs to confirm their plans to place staff on the government's furlough scheme.

The Coronavirus Job Retention scheme means employees can claim up to 80% of their wage (up to £2,500 per month) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

All domestic football has been suspended until April 30 at the earliest but yesterday Uefa suspended all Champions League and Europa League matches "until further notice" and also confirmed that all national team games in June have been postponed, including Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Irish League clubs are still in the dark over when the season can be concluded and while the game is not being played, clubs face huge financial challenges.

Irish FA chief Nelson has written to the Executive asking it to ensure football is included in the recently announced Business Support Grant Schemes.

In the letter, he points out: "These are testing times for Northern Ireland. As the sports governing body with one of the highest participation rates in the country, we at the Irish Football Association are focusing on how we can help; from redefining our remit in order to best serve the community to sharing our resources and facilities, we are here to play a leading role in whatever way we can to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're no longer delivering cup competitions, we're not overseeing leagues, we are dialling down the management of our international football teams and putting the brakes on facilitating football for all across our different communities. When all this is over, however, we want to ensure that we can return to supporting the game which does so much in this country, from providing a basis for physical fitness and healthy living to capturing the interest of people from every community and generation.

"Football has that unique ability to engage people and bring them together. But that's only part of the story.

"Together the 37 stakeholder clubs of the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) show that football not only delivers a huge community benefit but also a substantial financial contribution to the local economy. The 12-team Premiership alone employs approximately 350 people across the country, ranging from players to coaches to physios to ground staff, generating around £3m in annual salaries.

"The boost to the economy in resulting direct taxes from their operations is close to £1m a year in terms of ER NI and VAT. And that's not even accounting for the multiplier effect of that wage bill being spent in our shops, restaurants and other businesses."

Nelson argued if clubs aren't supported, it would be a shattering blow to local communities.

He added: "These clubs generate a significant social, cultural and economic impact that is felt far beyond any match day. And added to this are the scores of grassroots clubs and leagues right across Northern Ireland who are often the lifeblood of their own communities, creating playing opportunities for youngsters, volunteering opportunities for adults as well as focal points for people to come together.

"This is why the IFA, with NIFL, is calling on the NI Executive to ensure football is included in the recently announced Business Support Grant Schemes.

"Currently sports clubs are not eligible for the £10,000 small business support grant scheme, and we are therefore asking that sports clubs are included in the recently announced cash grant for Hospitality, Tourism and Retail and that the scheme matches that in England which awards £10k for businesses with a rates NAV below £15k and £25,000 for businesses with a rates NAV between £15k and £51k.

"This means that more clubs at all levels in Northern Ireland will benefit from the same financial assistance that other business sectors are experiencing."

Belfast Telegraph