Welsh clubs wary of European qualifying games money drain

By Kate MorganBBC Wales sports news correspondent
Cardiff City Stadium
Connah's Quay and Barry Town both intend to play at Cardiff City Stadium if they get European home draws

Welsh football clubs say they have a "serious eye" on the potential financial implications of playing in Europe's top competitions - including chartering flights - due to coronavirus.

Cymru Premier representatives Connah's Quay Nomads, Bala Town, Barry Town and The New Saints find out who they face in the single leg, knock-out qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa League in the coming days.

Barry manager Gavin Chesterfield says the club take responsibilities to health and safety very seriously but being drawn away is a "worry".

With the start of the new season delayed because of the pandemic, the traditional home and away legs of the qualifying rounds have been reduced to one-off ties.

Uefa, European football's governing body, has released £214m to its member associations to meet the challenges posed by coronavirus.

Qualifying for European competitions brings prestige but also a financial boost.

A team playing in the preliminary qualifying round of the Europa League 2019/20 season received £199,000, with the amount increasing for every round they won.

In the Champions League the starting amount was £208,000, with teams who made it to the third round of qualifying receiving £434,000.

"It's an important thing for the club, that European windfall sustains a club for a season or more," said Chesterfield, whose side will discover their Europa League preliminary round opponents on Sunday.

"The worry at the moment is the worry of being drawn away. This year it is a one-legged affair, but if we are drawn away it's likely we'll have to charter [a flight], and chartering planes isn't exactly a cheap experience."

Chesterfield says, home or away, it is a "privilege" to be involved and his team will do their best to progress.

But, while the Barry boss says he would be "elated" with a home draw, that could still cost a "significant amount" with clubs having to hire grounds that meet Uefa's Covid-19 game safety regulations.

Barry have already confirmed this would be the Cardiff City Stadium - which is Uefa safety compliant - should they secure home advantage.

Andy Morrison
Connah's Quay Nomads will be making their Champions League debut, led by boss Andy Morrison

It would also be the venue for Nomads' Champions League debut on 18-19 August, if Andy Morrison's side get a home tie in Sunday's first qualifying round draw - which includes Scottish champions Celtic, plus the likes of Astana of Kazakhstan and Qarabag of Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Bala Town say they are "very much hoping" to play on home soil too but that it has been difficult to budget when "none of the clubs are able to generate any income, because all preparation matches have to be played behind closed doors".

"All our prize money could be spent on organising this match, but it will still be an honour for our club," said a Bala spokesperson.

Mike Harris, The New Saints chairman, said he is hoping "the draws are kind", as the businessman has estimated chartering a flight to some of the possible locations could cost around £90,000.

"We do have a serious eye on the implications of playing the game and cost is one, but health and safety of players and the other people involved is paramount," he said.

Harris added that Uefa has been sympathetic to all the nations that compete and he thinks there is going to be additional support for clubs who get a particularly difficult draw.

Following a meeting of all member nations on Thursday, Uefa admitted it could not rule out the prospect of games being held at neutral venues if coronavirus travel restrictions are in place in certain countries.

Poland, Hungary, Greece and Cyprus have put themselves forward as neutral 'hubs' should they be required, with a further meeting expected later this month.

Uefa had also said it has lifted restrictions on how its HatTrick funding of £214m is spent.

The funding is usually distributed to cover running costs and targets specific areas, but it is up to member associations to decide their priorities in the wake of the global pandemic.

It has also released early club benefit payments of £180m - that would have been made to clubs at the end of Euro 2020 - "in light of the current crisis and financial difficulties".

A spokesperson for the Football Association of Wales said it had been working with the clubs over the last months and holding meetings to update them on the guidance.

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