The Irish Football Association have decided to postpone all football in Northern Ireland until April 30 with Windsor Park sources suggesting a further suspension could be on the cards in the near future.
Having initially suspended matches until April 4 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the IFA board held a conference call yesterday when it was decided that they had no option but to keep the suspension going until the end of the month.
Just as they did first time around earlier this month, the IFA have followed the latest postponement date set by the English Premier League. Like their FA counterparts across the water, the situation is subject to review.
With Uefa confirming that this season's Champions League final, scheduled for May 30 in Istanbul, had been postponed indefinitely because of Covid-19, it is clear nobody knows when football in Europe will be played again.
The IFA's announcement came hours before Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a number of new restrictions in the UK for the next three weeks in the fight against the coronavirus.
They include people having to stay at home except for shopping for basic necessities, one form of exercise a day or any medical need. Johnson added that travelling to and from work should only happen when "absolutely necessary" and that gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together were prohibited.
In a statement, football's governing body in Northern Ireland said: "It has been agreed to extend the suspension of the football season in Northern Ireland, at both domestic and grassroots level, until April 30, subject to an ongoing review of the situation."
The Irish FA’s statement continued: “The decision has been made with public health but, equally, the health and safety of players, match officials, staff and volunteers front of mind.
“The matter will be kept under constant review and means no affiliated football will be played in Northern Ireland until that time.”
Prior to yesterday’s decision, on the back of Uefa declaring a desire to have all domestic and European club competitions completed by the end of June, there had been talk about the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) coming up with a plan in order to complete the campaign.
Given Uefa’s call on the Champions League final, as well as postponing the Europa League and Women’s Champions League deciders also scheduled for May, that “end of June” hope now appears a forlorn one.
Both the IFA and NIFL are extremely keen to finish the season, but they know nothing can be ruled in or out at this stage.
The IFA have had a series of discussions with NIFL and will continue to do so. It is understood that officials in both organisations are wisely adopting a practical approach to the impact Covid-19 is having around the country and the world and would only back a return to action when they feel it is completely safe to do so.
There are plans for the IFA board to hold more talks in a month’s time but that could be brought forward when, with the coronavirus crisis expected to escalate in the coming weeks, any thoughts of playing again are likely to be kicked down the line.
Fifteen years on from Liverpool’s incredible triumph over AC Milan, Uefa were looking forward to the Ataturk Olympic Stadium hosting their showpiece club fixture again, but there are fears that the Champions League decider will not take place at all this season.
Postponing the May 30 final indefinitely says it all. To date, only half of the last-16 ties in the Champions League have been completed.
There have been suggestions they would look at playing the final at the end of June, but with the desperate situation around the continent that looks like mission impossible.
A Uefa statement read: “No decision has yet been made on rearranged dates. The working group, established last week as a result of the conference call among the stakeholders of European football, which was chaired by Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, will analyse the options available. The group have already begun their examination of the calendar. Announcements will be made in due course.”
Meanwhile, football clubs in Scotland have been urged to heed safety guidelines and stop holding training sessions.
Scottish football’s Joint Response Group stated that it was apparent that clubs were still convening training sessions against the guidance of the game’s governing body and the measures laid out by government.
A statement read: “We take this opportunity to remind members in the strongest possible terms that they desist from conducting training sessions under their auspices.
“Not only is this against the guidance that has been issued throughout the game but it also goes against the government and UK chief medical officer’s advice to delay the spread of coronavirus.”