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FAI trying to find 'soft landing' for League of Ireland but uncertainty reigns over its return - Quinn

The Interim Deputy CEO of the FAI was speaking on RTÉ 2fm’s Game On this evening.

Niall Quinn, interim deputy FAI CEO.
Niall Quinn, interim deputy FAI CEO.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

IT COULD BE “a long time down the road” before the League of Ireland [LOI] returns if there’s no agreement on playing behind closed doors, according to Niall Quinn.

An option currently being looked at is using the Aviva Stadium as a ‘neutral venue’ to play LOI games at, should it help the season to get back underway.

The Interim Deputy CEO of the FAI was speaking on RTÉ 2fm’s Game On this evening, and admitted that the association still lacks clarity on finance and what Government dates and the roadmap means for football on these shores. 

He says that the association is “trying to find as soft a landing as possible” for League of Ireland clubs crippled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

With football currently suspended, the FAI and the SSE Airtricity League are considering several options in a bid to rescue the 2020 campaign, which was only five rounds in when the spread of Covid-19 forced a halt. 

It was hoped that domestic soccer would resume in June but the Government roadmap published last week stated that team sports leagues cannot start until 20 July at least.

The FAI is now looking into playing LOI games behind closed doors, and streaming them live online behind a paywall. But, clubs are divided on this approach, with St Patrick’s Athletic president Tom O’Mahony one person who doesn’t believe it is realistic.

“It’s a very worrying time for League of Ireland clubs,” Quinn said on Game On.

As an association we recognise that. We’re trying to find as soft a landing as possible in this terrible time for the clubs.

“We’re coming up with a couple of, perhaps, acceptable solutions. There’s a real issue with us that the GAA don’t have and that’s the payment of players and the livelihoods of the footballers who play, who make it a full-time for themselves.

“Trying to find a way that that can carry on and that they don’t all get laid off — you’ll have seen some of our clubs have had to do that already. To get back playing, players will have to get fit again, they’ll have to know they’ll be in a medically-safe environment and we’ll have to have some reason financially for the clubs to bring it all together.

It’ll all be decided ultimately on what our HSE and Government has to say on when we’ll be allowed back.

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niall-quinn Quinn with players at the 2020 SSE Airtricity League Launch. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Earlier today, the GAA ruled out playing any inter-county games before October, though things are less clear around association football. From 20 July, the Government will “permit sports team leagues (e.g. soccer and GAA) but only where limitations are placed on the numbers of spectators and where social distancing can be maintained.”

Quinn accepts the mammoth challenge facing the LOI, but says they remain in contact with the HSE and he remains upbeat on the interest in the competition upon its return.

“It is worrying and our choices aren’t great at the moment, but we do hope there’s a will out there that people will watch League of Ireland games if we got them out there… to the people who are starved of top sport at this moment in time,” the former Ireland and Sunderland player added.

There’s also an international audience we can look at. It does bode well in that the conversations we’re having with, not just with streaming companies but marketing companies, global marketing companies at that, that there will be a future for the product no matter what happens when we do come out of the coronavirus.

“It’s not something to be sneezed at. We just hope that the clubs will see the value of coming back, if and when it happens.

“We’re tentatively looking at what those [roadmap] dates meant and those announcements meant. This evening Dr Alan Byrne, our chief medical officer, is talking to HSE officials about what it means for the amateur game and what it means for our professional game.”

“There’s a big worry out there,” Quinn added. “There’s a number of things in play. There’s more questions than answers at the moment.”

- You can listen to the full interview here.

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