Following meetings of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Steering Group and NIFL Board on Monday evening, the NI Football League can provide the following update.
As referenced in our previous statement on 6 April 2020 it remains impossible to commit to a date when competitions could resume, this will of continue to depend on the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and the guidance from the UK Government & health authorities but most importantly when it is safe for everyone to return to a sporting arena.
As you will be aware, the Northern Ireland Executive announced on 15 April 2020 that the current restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 would last until at least 9 May and stated that they will take a ‘step by step’ approach to lifting lockdown measures.
In addition, the European Leagues confirmed during the video-conference (Friday 24 April) that the Leagues ranked 16-55 would be required to conclude their season by 20 July 2020 (Northern Ireland is currently ranked 52). The European Leagues have however indicated that this was a tentative date.
The European Leagues have stressed the importance to keep unity and consensus among members and suggested that members do not take any hasty decisions regarding the end of the current season and the start of the new season in domestic calendar with the main aim to safeguard the integrity of competitions.
UEFA has recently provided all European Leagues with guidelines on eligibility Principles for Season 2020/21, the key points of which are as follows.
1. Admission to the UEFA club competitions is based on sporting merit. For this reason, UEFA urges National Associations and Leagues to explore all possible options in order to bring all top domestic competitions giving access to UEFA club competitions to their natural end.
2. National Associations and/or Leagues should be in a positionto communicate to UEFA by 25 May 2020 the planned restart of their domestic competitions including the date of restart and the relevant competition format.
3. While using best efforts to complete the domestic competitions, National Associations and/or Leagues might have legitimate reasons to prematurely terminate their domestic competitions, in particular inthe following cases:
a. existence of an official order prohibiting sports events so that the domestic competitions cannot be completed or are highly unlikely to be completed before a date that would make it possible to complete the current season in good time before the latest opportunity for the next season to start. In this situation, UEFA would recognise that it may no longer be practical to wait for a final position from the public authorities and that public health considerations mean that the domestic competitions are at high risk of not being played;
b. specific economic and financial justifications which would make continuing the season to its conclusion financially imprudent or which could put at risk the long-term financial stability of the domestic competition and/or clubs.
4. In the event that a domestic competition is to be prematurely terminated for legitimate reasons in accordance with the above conditions, UEFA would require the National Association to explain by 25 May 2020 (i.e. in line with date referred to in point 2 above) the special circumstances justifying such premature termination and to select clubs for the UEFA club competitions 2020/21 on the basis of sporting merit in the 2019/20 domestic competitions:
a. the procedure for selecting clubs should be based on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles. National Associations and Leagues should otherwise have the ability todecide the final positions in the domestic competitions, having regard to the specific circumstances of each competition;
b. the final determination of eligible places for the UEFA club competitions should be confirmed by the relevant competent bodies at domestic level.
5. UEFA reserves the right to refuse or evaluate the admission to any club proposed by a National Association from a prematurely terminated domestic competition in particular where:
a. the domestic competitions have not been prematurely terminated on the basis ofthe reasons given in these UEFA guidelines or on the basis of any other legitimate public health reasons;
b. the clubs were selected pursuant to a procedure which was not objective, transparent and non-discriminatory so that the selected clubs could not be considered as having been qualified on sporting merit;
c. there is a public perception of unfairness in the qualification of the club.
The COVID-19 Steering Group, established by the NIFL Board on 18 March 2020, will continue to liaise with all relevant stakeholders to obtain further information to allow the NI Football League, and our clubs, to take important decisions in advance of the UEFA deadline of 25 May 2020.
Arrangements will be made for all member clubs to discuss the next steps in their respective league Management Committee meetings to be held on Monday 11 May 2020.