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Legal warning as Irish League maintains desire to finish 19/20 season


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Shuttered: Crusaders’ Seaview stadium stands empty

Shuttered: Crusaders’ Seaview stadium stands empty

Crusaders treasurer Tommy Whiteside

Crusaders treasurer Tommy Whiteside

Stephen Hamilton/

Shuttered: Crusaders’ Seaview stadium stands empty

Defiant Northern Ireland Football League chiefs are pressing ahead with plans to play the remaining fixtures of this season - even though games staged in front of crowds may be impossible without a vaccine for Covid-19.

Playing behind closed doors is not financially viable - or safe enough at the moment - for the Irish League to contemplate so it's very difficult to see how the game will return in the next few months.

Despite the health and safety concerns which have led to a number of leagues finishing their campaigns, NIFL said on Friday they will ask the Irish FA to request an extension to the 2019-20 season for all their leagues.

NIFL also said that they will inform the IFA and Uefa that it is not possible to conclude the current season ahead of the July 20 deadline, when teams should be nominated for European competitions. Uefa gave the authorities a May 25 deadline to submit plans for concluding the current season and despite NIFL's desire to play the remaining league fixtures, several top-flight clubs want the campaign to be wrapped up now.

And NIFL would need the government to lift their Covid-19 restrictions stating that social distancing must remain in place before the game can return.

Under the NI Executive's plan, contact sports can only resume in the final stage of the easing process.

In their statement, NIFL said "there remains a desire from member clubs to conclude the current season by playing all remaining fixtures subject, however, to due regard being given to the above principles, concerning protecting the health and wellbeing of all individuals, ensuring the financial sustainability of member clubs and preserving the sporting integrity of the leagues."

NIFL also explained that their Covid-19 steering group would "provide a recommendation to the NIFL board in respect of the following: (a) requesting the IFA to grant an extension to the 2019-20 NIFL league season for all leagues; (b) providing confirmation to the IFA and Uefa that it is not possible to conclude the 2019-20 league season ahead of July 20, 2020 for the purposes of nominating entries for European Club Competitions (ECC)."

Crusaders treasurer Tommy Whiteside, however, has warned that clubs could be subjected to legal action if the health and safety of their players is neglected during the pandemic.

The Crues chief says Irish League clubs should exercise extreme caution before restarting the game.

Players are naturally concerned about contracting the virus and passing it onto a more vulnerable member of their family.

And Whiteside even fears that in the tragic event of a player losing his life, a club could face a corporate manslaughter charge.

Crusaders, who sit third in the Premiership, are among the top-flight clubs content to see the season declared over.

“I’ve heard people talk about testing but that won’t be relevant to us,” said Whiteside.

“Unless the government relaxes the social distancing rules we cannot play. If something happens to a player, you could be looking at corporate manslaughter.

“Players are employees and they have rights. Clubs will not be insured and they will be held responsible for the health and safety of the players.

“There’s people dying out there and businesses are failing. The government won’t be allowing football to return in the near future.”

It also appears highly unlikely clubs will be flying around Europe competing in qualifying matches this summer.

“The season is going to end and there are doubts over whether there will be European qualification matches for our teams,” added Whiteside. “The smaller nations may not feature.

“We are behind everyone in terms of how we respond to this virus.

“The optimistic hope is the game returning by mid-September.

“The transfer window can’t open until the Irish FA say the season is over and players are coming out of contract at the end of this month and their situation needs to be resolved.

“We had submitted a discussion document about the way forward but it would need unanimous support.”

NIFL also said that they will weigh up the impact of the IFA’s player registration sub-committee meeting next week, which will consider the issue of Irish League players who were due to come out of contract at the end of the 2019-20 season.

All football activities have been suspended in Northern Ireland since March.

Various domestic leagues are shutting down their seasons in the way they feel is appropriate in the far from ideal circumstances. If the season does not resume, NIFL must address the promotion and relegation question, the destination of the Gibson Cup, the European places and Uefa funding allocation.

Belfast Telegraph