The Northern Ireland Football League has appointed an internal steering group to help guide clubs through the coronavirus crisis.
The group will assess the impact of Covid-19 and the consequences of the pandemic for clubs and also examine relevant calendar matters and devise solutions allowing for the resumption and conclusion of the current season.
Top-flight action is suspended until April 4 at the earliest, and measures around social distancing meant all clubs couldn’t be present at tonight’s meeting so it went ahead through a conference call incorporating the Premiership, Championship and Premier Intermediate League Management Committees.
Clubs shared their experiences so far of how the pandemic has affected them financially, and the implications of a longer-term suspension of competition.
In England, the EFL has announced a £50m short-term relief package to assist cash-strapped clubs and Irish League sides will be pressing the Irish FA for financial assistance if the crisis deepens.
Uefa's gathering of football stakeholders on Tuesday ended with an outline commitment to completing domestic competitions across Europe by June 30, and the decision to postpone Euro 2020 to the summer of 2021 has given competition organisers some wriggle room.
But Danske Bank Premiership sides have little appetite to extend the season to late June and the challenge facing NIFL managing director Andrew Johnston and the clubs is a massive one.
The news that a Linfield player had tested positive for coronavirus was one of the key developments which led to the league being suspended. The player is understood to be feeling better and in good spirits.
A NIFL statement added: “The NI Football League will continue to work closely with the Irish Football Association as well as communicate with UEFA and local government to keep clubs updated throughout this period.
“Concerns of all clubs were communicated during the various meetings and the NI Football League remains committed to assisting member clubs with support and guidance with the health and well-being of fans, staff and players and the wider community remains the highest priority at this time.”
The Irish FA Foundation said it has decided to suspend programmes involving direct social contact until further notice.
The programmes that have been suspended include player development programmes for male and female youths, coaching courses, coaching sessions in schools, mentoring programmes, NIBFA leagues and competitions and EU Peace-funded programmes such as Game of 3 Halves and Have a Go Days.
Safeguarding courses, education and work experience programmes, McDonald’s Small-Sided Games Centres for boys and girls, McDonald’s Fun Football activities, Futsal Game Changers centres for girls, schools’ futsal, schools’ football competitions for boys and girls, grassroots coach education courses and Shared Future Shared Goals activities run in conjunction with Ulster GAA are currently not running either.
Also on hold are the Electric Ireland Regional Excellence Programme for girls, the Electric Ireland Shooting Stars initiative aimed at introducing girls aged 4-11 to football, coaching sessions and matches involving the girls’ U15 development squad and the Northern Ireland Women’s U-17 and U-19 squads and education courses for coaches of girls’ and women’s teams.
The Ahead of the Game mental health awareness programme, refereeing courses, club conferences and workshops, shared education programmes and coaching awards through the Stadium Community Benefits Initiative and People and Clubs activities, which focus on club development, club operations and people development, have also been suspended.
Meanwhile, Premier League clubs in England will gather via conference call tomorrow morning to discuss fixtures and finances amid the pandemic.
In Scotland, Hearts players including Northern Ireland internationals Liam Boyce, Michael Smith and Conor Washington, along with staff, have been asked to take a stunning 50 per cent wage cut amid financial fears.