NIFL Board to make decisions on ‘fact rather than speculation’ as Irish League clubs remain divided over way forward

Northern Ireland Football League officials stand ‘agreeable to giving clubs further space to formulate their plans’ as the Danske Bank Premiership teams remain divided over a resolution to the domestic season.

Friday, 12th June 2020, 3:25 pm
Updated Friday, 12th June 2020, 8:43 pm
Northern Ireland football remains in lockdown.

Talks between the 12 top-flight clubs are required to continue now beyond today’s revised deadline for a vote on NIFL-sanctioned options.

Following 24 hours over which clubs essentially rejected the two NIFL Steering Group proposals, described by one source as “dead in the water”, the only path forward appears a full agreement across the board from the Danske Bank Premiership sides.

“The NI Football League are aware that the UEFA ExCo are meeting on Wednesday 17 June and would anticipate that meeting will fully inform the process and dates of all UEFA club competitions following this meeting,” confirmed a NIFL statement. “This will enable the NIFL Board to make decisions based on fact rather than speculation.

“The NIFL Board have written to the IFA to enable them to send an update to UEFA ahead of this meeting.

“The representatives of the Premiership clubs met yesterday (Thursday) and have advised they wish to continue to consult collectively on a way forward.

“The NIFL Board are agreeable to giving clubs further space to formulate their plans ahead of a Premiership Management Committee once information from UEFA is available.

“This time will allow for further dialogue with the Irish FA and NI Executive on a return to football and consequently we have agreed to defer today’s proposed deadline for final Premiership club response until a later date.

“In addition, submissions have now been received from all Championship and Premier Intermediate League clubs and will now be considered by the NIFL Board.”

The process calls for an unanimous verdict by clubs on a proposal which is then presented to the NIFL Board for approval, delivered to the IFA and, ultimately, presented to UEFA.

Sources involved in meetings between clubs have stressed a desire for negotiations to maintain “harmony and respect” towards reaching a decision.

The clubs’ proposal centres on nominating three names for European qualification to satisfy UEFA concerns and, as a result, trigger access to money which the majority of teams want shared across the division.

Sources have indicated UEFA can sanction money to be delivered beyond three qualifying clubs under certain circumstances.

With NIFL suggestions of playing two games or adopting a mathematical model both rejected, the clubs’ plan is to complete the 38-match programme by returning later in the year under NI Executive guidance in front of supporters.

“We want to settle the season out on the pitch in front of fans when a worthy winner can be decided in the right way,” said one source. “Rugby clubs are looking towards September for a return to play, so we look on it as feasible.

“The extra time would allow clubs and players an opportunity to prepare in the right way on and off the pitch, so that meets the requirement set out by NIFL towards the health and wellbeing of all.

“Playing in front of paying supporters and with the European money shared helps the financial demands and the final principle we were asked to meet regarding sporting integrity would be achieved we feel by completing the outstanding seven games.”

It is understood Linfield and Coleraine - sitting first and second respectively in the league standings before the fixture freeze in March - remain against the proposal on the table.

Both the distribution of European money and the nomination process to cement three names have been described by sources as “key issues” but with the two NIFL Steering Group proposals now effectively dismissed, the majority of clubs hope an agreement can be reached.

It has been indicated that, even if Irish League clubs playing European qualifying rounds is realistic, some may be reluctant to travel for health and safety reasons or the threat of increasing financial costs as the world continues to adapt and adjust to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We can sit down to discuss the logistics of training, health and safety, testing and every other detail once we reach an unanimous verdict,” said another source. “The first step is for all 12 clubs to come together so we can present to the NIFL Board.

“The clubs were not happy with the process so have met and devised a proposal we feel moves everything closer than ever to a resolution.

“Now it is about all 12 clubs reaching an agreement.”

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