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Bleak future: Crusaders’ Seaview home in lockdown, like the rest of the Irish League grounds

Bleak future: Crusaders’ Seaview home in lockdown, like the rest of the Irish League grounds

Bleak future: Crusaders’ Seaview home in lockdown, like the rest of the Irish League grounds

Irish League fans have been left bewildered and frustrated by the lack of action from the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) after they delayed the decision making process in relation to the conclusion of this season until June 30.

Players, managers and supporters were hoping for some much needed clarity by the weekend over what happens next in the 2019/2020 campaign but all they got was the ball being kicked down the road.

A Steering Group was formed to come up with answers. Instead NIFL's latest statement raised a host of questions including how on earth so little progress has been made since football here was halted by the coronavirus pandemic on March 13 and when are the decision makers going to get round to making decisions.

The feeling is growing around the game that NIFL are scared to make big calls though it should be noted the self interest of clubs and debate over where the European money goes may have a bearing on that.

It is understood the majority of Premiership and Championship clubs feel the 2019/2020 campaign should be brought to a close now.

Some have publicly stated that opinion in this newspaper stressing that without Covid-19 testing for players they should not be expected to train or play and that playing behind closed doors, due to restrictions, is not financially viable for clubs here.

Other leagues across the UK and Europe, including in Northern Ireland, have made big decisions yet the Irish League is still in limbo.

What fans want is direction. While some sympathised with NIFL, most were critical on social media. One said: "Anything that involves making a decision seems to be beyond them."

UEFA had originally set May 25 as a deadline for decisions on the conclusion of domestic seasons. The new deadline is June 12. NIFL say clubs must be nominated for European club competition by July 20.

The NIFL statement read: "Following consultation with member clubs and recommendations from the NIFL Covid-19 Steering Group, the Board of Directors has agreed a number of key actions and indicative timeline.

"The Board supports member clubs' continued desire to conclude the current season by playing all remaining fixtures and this remains subject to due regard being given to the following principles: Protecting health and wellbeing of all individuals (including players, staff, officials, spectators, volunteers and other stakeholders) in line with government and medical guidance and advice; ensuring the financial sustainability of member clubs; and preserving the sporting integrity of the leagues.

"It has been agreed the Steering Group fully appraises the 'season end' options for all leagues and makes a recommendation to the NIFL Board by 30 June, 2020. These options, and any decision, will be underpinned by the above principles. This process will include further consultation in advance of 30 June, with all member clubs, to ensure all views are considered.

"The NIFL (alongside the Irish FA) will continue to liaise with UEFA to comply with their deadlines in respect of nomination of clubs to participate in next season's European Club Competitions. The Steering group will consult with all key stakeholders and member clubs to input into the nomination process."

Amongst the reasons outlined by the NIFL Board for the above was to learn from "other countries, leagues and sport", "to confirm arrangements regarding player registrations and contracts" and allowed "more informed decision making following a progress review of the current NI Executive plans and guidance".

Belfast Telegraph