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Crusaders call on health minster to intervene as Irish League vote delayed and plans descend into chaos

 

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Crusaders FC have written to the Northern Ireland Health Minister over the Irish League's plans to return to action.

Crusaders FC have written to the Northern Ireland Health Minister over the Irish League's plans to return to action.

Crusaders FC have written to the Northern Ireland Health Minister over the Irish League's plans to return to action.

Crusaders FC has written to the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann claiming lockdown rules would be flouted in the NI Football League's proposal to restart the Irish League season.

Clubs had been due to respond to the plans by 5pm today but that deadline is understood to have been pushed back to 3pm tomorrow to allow for further discussions.

The NIFL Covid-19 Steering Group earlier this week gave clubs two options; to play two more rounds of fixtures in late July and early August before bringing the season to a close or alternatively to call an immediate halt to the campaign, with a mathematical calculation used to determine final league placings.

However, Tuesday evening's Premiership Committee meeting was understood to be a fraught and volatile affair, in which the steering group was heavily criticised by some clubs.

It is thought that as many as nine of the 12 top tier clubs plan to vote against playing two more rounds of fixtures and Crusaders' letter suggests a strength of feeling that could yet blow open the entire process.

The letter says Crusaders officials are now at their 'wit's end'.

"For the long term good of the game, the wellbeing of players, volunteers and clubs, Crusaders FC have asked NIFL and its steering group to suspend the current ‘options’ process and look again at alternatives which give better consideration to all the stakeholders interests," the club states.

Crusaders pointed to the lack of friendly matches to prepare players for action and the danger to club's finances of removing staff from furlough in order to play two rounds of fixtures.

The NIFL document stated that players need only be removed from furlough for the short period over which matches are played. The game's chiefs are waiting for HMRC clarification on the potential to place staff back on furlough afterwards.

Crusaders also pointed to a lack of concrete plans regarding testing, although IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson said in today's Belfast Telegraph that the Irish FA and NIFL would fund one round of testing.

"If clubs want to fund any further testing beyond that, it is an opportunity for them," he continued. "On the UK Sport guidelines and other sporting guidelines, there is no absolute necessity for testing. We think adding a round of testing will be good for players, stakeholders, physios, doctors etc and is the right thing to do."

Crusaders also noted in the letter that under the NI Executive's 'Pathway to Recovery', behind closed doors sporting events are permitted only in Step Four.

As a result, the club has asked Minister Swann to underline current Executive guidance to both the IFA and NIFL, to treat any requests to relax guidance in respect of football's restart 'with extreme caution' and to seek the 'detailed advice and explicit agreement of the Health and Safety Executive' on any plan to restart competitive football.

Both NIFL and the Irish FA declined to comment on the contents of the letter.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Any decisions around changes to restrictions or guidance is a matter for Executive agreement."

Belfast Telegraph