Irish League vote delayed with Crusaders critical of ‘reckless’ plans in letter to NI Executive

Crusaders have delivered a damning letter highlighting what the club view as “a concerted, planned and deliberate attempt to complete the domestic senior football programme in ways that clearly breach current Northern Ireland Executive guidance on Covid-19”.

Thursday, 11th June 2020, 1:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th June 2020, 2:07 pm
Crusaders Football Club's Seaview ground following the introduction of lockdown in March. Pic by Pacemaker.

The 12 senior Irish League clubs had been asked to notify the NIFL Steering Group by 5pm tonight a vote of support for one of two options to finish the current Danske Bank Premiership campaign.

That has now been delayed until 3pm tomorrow.

The overall process has attracted criticism from a number of people within the game since Irish League football shut down in March and Crusaders describe the club as “being placed by our governing association in an impossible position”.

Crusaders have called for a suspension of the current options process and “look again at alternatives which give better consideration to all the stakeholders interests”, backing that request as “for the long term good of the game, the wellbeing of players, volunteers and clubs”.

The NIFL Steering Group proposals presented to clubs on Tuesday night essentially centre on playing two league games to bring every Danske Bank Premiership club up to 33 fixtures or opting to apply a mathematical model to finish the season off the pitch.

A copy of the Crusaders letter - seen by the News Letter and verified as genuine - was sent to Minister for Health Robin Swann. It states a separate copy was sent to Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey and cc’d to “the First and Deputy First Ministers and relevant MLAs, NI Assembly Health Committee”.

Crusaders have called for a meeting with NI Executive representatives to discuss a situation they describe as “reckless on several levels”.  

The Crues sit third in the current standings over Cliftonville on goal difference after 31 fixtures, one and three points ahead of Glentoran and Larne respectively and three behind Coleraine.

The Seaview officials have noted a timeline around the two-game strategy citing “a return to training around 11-15 July, and a return to competitive matches (matchday 32) by 20th July, with matchday 33 by 25th July and completion of both competitions, (Irish League and Irish Cup) in time to submit club nominations to UEFA for European competition by 3rd August”.

The second option on the table, a mathematical model, has been dismissed in the letter as “an end in such vague circumstances as to render the ‘option’ unworthy of consideration”.

Crusaders claim “none of the options are accompanied by a risk assessment, concrete proposals for testing or contact tracing or any of the rudiments that would be in place for the re-opening of a business, a workplace, a public facility (such as a school or library) or for a planned event”.

Other key concerns centre on risk of injury in relation to training time, financial implications of an early return from furlough and insurance issues.

The letter is also critical of IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson, NIFL CEO Andrew Johnston and the NIFL Steering Group. Both the IFA and NIFL declined to comment on the details of the Crusaders letter.

Tuesday’s NIFL statement following the meeting of member clubs included how “the Steering Group has appraised numerous options available to either resume or curtail the current season against the key principles of health, finance and sporting integrity alongside the impact on the football calendar and timeframe.  “Throughout the process the Steering Group continued to recognise that the optimum option to ensure sporting integrity would be to conclude all matches in each division. 

“The Steering Group was challenged by each option as they all impacted the key principles in their own specific way but has endeavoured to provide recommendations in the best interest of the NI Football League.
“The Steering Group advocates that the most reasonable, proportionate and fairest solution in the interests of the League would be to conclude Season 2019/20 Premiership campaign in a condensed format with all ‘pre-split’ games being completing to ensure that each club has played each other three times. 
“The alternative recommended option is to curtail the season immediately and adopt a mathematical model to determine all league placings. Such mathematical model would be developed and implemented by an independent panel, appointed by the NIFL Board, and must ensure as close as possible that Sporting Merit is achieved as required by UEFA.”

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