Irish FA President David Martin believes football can play an important role in Northern Ireland’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis — but only when government gives the green light for sport to resume.
Football has been suspended in Northern Ireland since March 13 and it looks highly unlikely to resume in the coming months with certain restrictions remaining in place, even though UEFA have given permission for the season to go on until July 31.
President Martin is already looking to the long-term future of football in Northern Ireland rather than a quick fix. He hopes Leagues can play their remaining fixtures during the summer months, but naturally isn’t overly optimistic and has therefore cast an eye to next season and the battle to make sure football as we know it survives and then thrives.
He has called upon the top administrators in the respective Leagues to come up with contingency plans and strategies for when football eventually does return.
“My focus has to be on the health and state of the game when this crisis is over,” stresses Martin.
“When will that be? We don’t honestly know. But we must be ready to play.
“That means Leagues and their respective committees should have their plans in place to tackle every eventuality for the 2020-21 season — that could mean a truncated season or a different format.
“If we are asking our players to keep in shape during lockdown, then it’s imperative our leaders lead, demonstrating good administration.
“I want to see vital leadership during this period because football will return and we need to be ready to embrace it once again.
“It’s important to have strategies ready, clubs constantly informed and we need to make sure people don’t lose interest.
“Sport, and football in particular, can play an important role in our nation’s recovery as we emerge from the effects of Covid-19.
“The Irish FA staff, I can assure you, will be available to give help, advice and guidance when normality resumes. We know how important it is to have a healthy game going forward and, as the governing body, we have a responsibility.”
While President Martin is encouraging Leagues to prepare for a return to action, he stresses football must not be rushed back.
He understands clubs have a desire to conclude their seasons, yet that must not override public health and safety.
The continued full support of the football community must be for the NHS and that should be the priority.
“What we must remember is that football is a sport and, in the great scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter,” admits Martin.
“We’ve lost hundreds of people in this country and it’s a scary situation we are living in.
“Football is not a priority but that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare. We can have hope and football can give us that.
“This crisis really has put life into perspective, football is a great sport but life is so precious and must be what we fully concentrate on protecting.
“I watched the news the other night and there was a brilliant report from the BBC’s Emma Vardy on the front-line with an ambulance crew.
“It focused on paramedic Tina Brennan, living away from her family in a hotel — all the emotions she has to endure along with the trials and tribulations of her work during this pandemic. It truly was a wonderful piece of work and it really brought it home to me the sacrifice our front-line workers are making.
“When the time is right, football will return, but only when it is safe to do so.”