Four-times title winner Sean Ward says he wouldn't count a league winner's medal as rightfully earned if one was handed to him before a season is completed.
The Covid-19 outbreak slammed the brakes on the Danske Bank Premiership title race with all top flight sides still to play seven matches in a 38-game campaign.
Champions Linfield are four points ahead of Coleraine with the Crues and Cliftonville 10 behind the leaders.
The Irish FA has granted the league an extension of the current season until July 31 but time is running out to fulfil the fixtures and playing without fans has little support.
If the season cannot be finished, a decision will need to be taken on awarding the championship to Linfield but experienced Crusaders defender Ward argues the title hasn't been earned yet.
"I know that if I was a Linfield player and the title was given to me I wouldn't count it as a league winner's medal," said Ward who won two titles with the Glens and one each with the Blues and Crues. "I wouldn't consider it to be one of my list of honours."
Ward added: “I’ve been fortunate to win the league four times but I wouldn’t count this one as you haven’t won it.
“It’s a 38-game season and Linfield haven’t won it yet. I’ve spoken to a few Linfield players and they will feel the same.
“I don’t think it’s at the stage now where the title is earned. The season isn’t complete and I don’t think you can say one team has won it. In my view you play the 38 games, the full league campaign, or you scrap it.
“There are seven games left and it’s all to play for. They are huge games. You want to win the title in the right manner. You don’t want anything handed to you.
“Players need to win it through their performances on the pitch over the whole season.”
Ward is one of the most respected players in the league but not just for his performances on the pitch and his record of winning league titles and Irish Cups with Linfield, Glentoran and Crusaders. The 36-year-old conducts himself in a professional manner, demands high standards and always speaks intelligently about the game.
“I think NIFL have put the decision off regarding the ending of the season so that they can make an informed call,” he added.
“There’s only seven games left but do you hand the league title out? Those games could change everything. It’s not like the Premier League where Liverpool have a commanding lead or Scotland where Celtic where far ahead.”
Football will only return when the Government and authorities are confident it’s a safe environment for the players, officials and supporters to return to.
Ward accepts some players might be nervous and he would never be critical of anyone choosing not to play. “Boys will be very cautious about playing and thinking of their families because there is no vaccine,” he added. “I think you have to respect everyone’s viewpoint in this because we are talking about a life and death issue.
“Watford’s Troy Deeney was hesitant about coming back as he was worried about the health of his son. People will be wary and they should be because a lot of people have died. Sport is my life and this has flipped it upside down but there are more important things in life than football. If any player doesn’t feel they want to play they have my support. I’m seeing people show little respect for the social distancing rules and that is a real worry.”
While Ward doesn’t believe the title can be handed out, former Blues skipper Michael Gault takes a different view.
“If I was in Linfield’s position, I’d take the title and be delighted,” said Gault who won seven titles with Linfield and is now Ballymacash Rangers manager.
“The Blues are four points clear. But if I was a Coleraine player I’d be absolutely devastated. It’s just terrible circumstances and everyone will have to accept it and get on with it.”