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Fresh fears for future of Irish League clubs as fans locked out and relief fund not yet delivered

Survival fears after delay in SportNI funding and shut-out of spectators


Warning: Crusaders chairman Ronnie Millar fears clubs will go bankrupt

Warning: Crusaders chairman Ronnie Millar fears clubs will go bankrupt

Warning: Crusaders chairman Ronnie Millar fears clubs will go bankrupt

Irish League games going behind closed doors and a delay in Covid-19 relief funding from the NI Executive has sparked fresh fears that clubs could soon go out of business.

The Executive announced late on Thursday night that elite sport must be played without fans from next Friday for at least two weeks.

Clubs had been able to secure limited matchday revenue from restricted crowds but now they fear fans could be frozen out for a long period.

The Northern Ireland sports sector was allocated £15m to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Irish League clubs are hoping to net £3.5m of it, but it could take months for that money to be distributed.

Clubs can apply for the emergency funding through Sport NI but that badly needed cash may not be available until March or April at the earliest.

An NI Football League (NIFL) spokesperson said: "While we acknowledge the need for action in the fight against Covid-19, this comes as a further blow to our member clubs.

"As a league we are concerned that these restrictions have not been accompanied with any further clarity or update on the proposed distribution of the Covid-19 Recovery Fund for Sport, announced by the NI Executive three weeks ago. The NIFL Board is scheduled to meet on Monday evening and will consider the distribution of the first phase of the NIFL Covid-19 Recovery Fund for member clubs."

Crusaders chairman Ronnie Millar says the tougher Government restrictions will place greater financial pressure on clubs.

"We must respect the regulations but the supporter ban is another financial blow to clubs," said Millar.

"There is the prospect of clubs going out of business, like companies who are struggling. It could take a few months for the Sport NI money to arrive, and if it doesn't come until after March we could be saying goodbye to clubs.

"In the meantime, they have to honour contracts.

"While clubs are struggling, we are always mindful of the fact a lot of people have lost their lives."

Larne owner Kenny Bruce stated on Twitter: "Hopefully our association will step up and show strong leadership and support."

Belfast Telegraph