Door appears to open for soccer’s return before the end of July

FAI seeking clarification what limits might be enforced with regard to attendances

While the Government timeframe for an end of the Covid-19 related restriction appears to open the door to a resumption of competitive soccer before the end of July, the FAI was seeking clarification on Friday evening as to what limits might continue to be enforced with regard to attendances.

Some clubs remain sceptical that what has been announced actually changes the debate much on when a league that is heavily dependent on people paying in through turnstiles can get fully up and running again.

In the official documentation published by the Government, it is envisaged that “small group sports team training” will be allowed to resume on June 8th with some “events” permitted behind closed doors three weeks later, on June 29th.

If everything goes to schedule, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar emphasised that it might well not, then competitive team sports could resume on July 20th. "Where limitations are placed on the numbers of spectators" while events that attract "mass gatherings" could be held from August 10th although, again, with limits on numbers. The restrictions envisaged were not revealed but it is suggested that the numbers permitted to attend would start low, presumably a percentage of capacity, then gradually go up over an as yet unspecified amount of time.


In every instance, it is stated, provisions for social distancing will have to be made.

The roadmap will please the FAI which has been attempting to explore the potential for the League of Ireland to return even if no crowds at all were permitted. That prospect has, however, deeply divided clubs, a number of which are, in the absence of firm guarantees of alternative revenues, vehemently against a return while attendances, and so match day income, is going to be significantly restricted.

A minority of them, all scheduled to compete in Europe this summer, are firmly in favour of the FAI's proposals. While those in the middle are sceptical, some of them deeply so, but open to hearing what the association is in a position to put on the table in terms of supports from Fifa and prospective income from the live streaming of games.

The Government’s document regarding the easing of restrictions still mentions a requirement for precautions like adequate cleaning and social distancing measures and some of the clubs themselves have said that they would find some of the expected requirements very challenging given the quality of their facilities and largely volunteer nature of their workforces.

The FAI has been trying to find ways of addressing those concerns and at one stage on Friday the idea that games might be played at the Aviva stadium was floated by their side. The doesn’t seem to have been taken entirely seriously by clubs and many of them will have to be persuaded by the wider notion when the association delivers proposals based on the various costings and concerns submitted to it over the past week.

The suggestion on Friday was that that could happen by the middle of next week although even senior association officials seem to believe it could be a week or more after that before the extent of any Fifa supports are made known. A number of clubs have suggested, however, that nothing can happen until that the full extent of any available financial package is known.

That will include clarification on how much will still be available from the government in terms of wage supplements in the event that they agree to bring their players back for what is expected to be a six week “pre-season”.

The problem arises because while clubs like Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers are still paying their players' wages, others have either reduced or temporarily halted them and they are wary of calling squad members and other staff back in for training if full wages would then be expected again from day one - which they generally would.

Players' Union, the PFAI, meanwhile, also came back to the association with three pages of queries regarding how the health of its members would be safeguarded when "social distancing" is impossible for those on the pitch. The availability of regular testing is said to be a key issue for them, with the ability to ensure infected players are prevented from participating seen as the only reasonable way of offering adequate protection.

Pretty much every side will see potential positives in the Government’s announcement, and the association will be happy that it offers the prospect of the non-professional game getting going again, but like many other sectors, professional football is still trying to figure out who precisely will get to foot the bill.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times