Niall Quinn has said that centralising the hosting of League of Ireland games in a single venue is one of the proposals being considered as a means to allow domestic football to safely resume behind closed doors.
“We asked all the clubs to give us their feedback on what they think of potentially playing behind closed doors and how difficult it would be,” said the FAI’s Interim Deputy CEO. “And there was a big concern about medical safety with players. So we’re looking at how we can intervene with that.
“If we moved the games, for instance, into one stadium as opposed to all of the stadiums, could we have a professional medical outfit that could come in and do a job that would satisfy our players and satisfy everyone who had to be in the stadium? Would that be the way forward if we had it all in one place, with the games played in a neutral venue? These are things we’re looking at, things that may help. But ultimately it will be HSE and government who will decide if we can do that at all.”
To facilitate playing games in one neutral venue, it’s believed that the fixture list would be spread throughout the week. It’s understood that an alternative plan to host games in four regional ‘hub’ venues has also been discussed.
Speaking on 2FM’s ‘Game On’, after the GAA had announced that there would be no inter-county games until October, Quinn pointed out that, in contrast to amateur sport, jobs are on the line for League of Ireland professionals.
“It’s a very worrying time for League of Ireland clubs and as an Association we recognise that and we’re trying to find as soft a landing for as possible in this terrible time for the clubs,” he said.
“There is a real issue with us that the GAA don’t have and that’s the payment of players and the livelihoods of players who actually make it a full-time job for themselves. So we’re trying to find a way that they can carry on and they don’t all get laid off — as you know, some of our clubs have had to do that already.”
As well as seeking to allay safety concerns, Quinn said the FAI are looking at the potential for streaming, both in Ireland and internationally, to make it financially feasible for clubs to play behind closed doors.
“There’s also an international audience that we could look at and it does bode well that the conversations we’re having, not just with streaming companies but global marketing companies, suggest there would be a future for the product whatever happens when we do come out of coronavirus. So it may have some long-term value as well. We just hope that there will be enough of an underwrite that the clubs will see the value of coming back if and when HSE allows it to happen.”
Should it not be possible to reach agreement about an early resumption for the league, Quinn said the FAI will look to see what they can do to help the four clubs – Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City – who have qualified to play in European club competitions this year.
“If football has kicked off back in Europe and we haven’t got going but we’re allowed (to resume) but the clubs won’t play, then we have to look at those four clubs and see what we can do for them and how can we prepare them for any European club football that might take place, we’re led to believe, in August, September, October. So there are a number of things in play and there’s more questions than answers at the moment.”
Quinn also said that the FAI’s Chief Medical Officer, Alan Byrne, was talking to HSE officials today to discuss in detail what the government’s roadmap for reopening society means for both amateur and professional football.