NIFL has 'draft schedule' in place to complete Irish Premiership season

Jimmy Callacher and Eoin Bradley
Linfield and Coleraine are challenging for this season's Irish Premiership title

The Northern Ireland Football League says it is examining options to mitigate the losses suffered by its member clubs.

NIFL has suspended games in light of the spread of coronavirus.

The governing body indicated on Wednesday that it was setting up a steering group to look at a range of matters caused by the outbreak.

Managing director Andrew Johnston said NIFL was trying try to put measures in place to assist its member clubs.

"There is an obvious impact in terms of loss of income, on players contractually and sustainability issues," said Johnston.

Irish League clubs took part in a conference call on Wednesday night to express the problems they expect to encounter.

'Financial health of clubs a concern'

"Clubs are concerned about how long this could last and the potential severity of the impact it will have," added Johnston.

"Concerns have been put forward over the future financial health of clubs given the loss of turnstile and gate receipt income.

"At the end of the season we would have been due to provide payments to clubs but that is something we will review to see if we can bring forward some of the payments.

"In reality some of those payments wouldn't be compensatory to the losses they will face so we are looking at what other options are available regarding financial assistance."

The steering group set up by NIFL has been charged with "devising solutions" on how best to resume and conclude the current season in light of Uefa's desire to have all domestic and European club competitions completed by the end of June.

'What is realistic remains to be seen'

"That is the stated aim at this point but that is very much dependent on what the situation is and how the current pandemic evolves. Whether it is realistic remains to be seen," continued the NIFL boss.

"At the moment what we are trying to do is put plans in place and look at what options are available in order to meet that deadline.

"The Steering Group is looking at calendar considerations and we have a draft schedule which takes account of the seven rounds of games which are still to be played at Premiership level, also factoring in the Irish Cup semi-finals and final.

"We could look at the possibility of Saturday and midweek games to finish the season so we would be looking at four and a half to five weeks as a minimum to finish the season.

"Depending on when the season can conclude it may have an impact on next season's calendar. Revising next year's calendar is something the European Leagues are already considering."

'Health issues of much more importance'

Johnston emphasised that while NIFL were endeavouring to make provisional plans, the health of the wider population was of paramount importance in the present circumstances.

"Everyone wants to win leagues and cups and earn promotion but quite clearly there are times when other issues transcend football and are of much higher significance.

"These are challenging times and our thoughts are with everyone who is facing difficulties of whatever kind.

"All we can do is follow the Government and the authorities' advice as to what is possible in the upcoming weeks and months.

"We hope the current situation passes and football continues to be an important cog which brings so many people together."