When will the LOI start again?

The Irish Government’s Roadmap For Reopening Society and Business, which was released on May 1 wasn’t very helpful for Irish football at both LOI level and amateur level. No one really knew when they could return? Was it in phase 3 or maybe it’s phase 4 – but what about social distancing? How can you play and have a  two meter social distancing rule in place?

The FAI were in the dark just as much as everyone else so they reached out to the government and compiled a plan of action for football to return.

The FAI’s Medical Director Dr Alan Byrne, is taking the lead here and he said: “Everything we do now is designed to ensure that football can return for everyone as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so”.

The big leagues of Europe are looking to start again soon and the Bundesliga has already started. Ireland doesn’t have billions of money to throw around to get it right and must plan the opening more slowly. All eyes have been on Germany, where the Bundesliga started on the 16th of May without any issues and for those that like to bet this is very welcome news.  There are more odds, free bets and sign up offers at  Borrussia Dortmund’s hopes of winning the league have dropped to 11/2 after they lost at home to Bayern Munich last night. Bayern are now the firm favourites to win the title at a general price of 1/5 or there is the 25/1 that you’ll get about RB Leipzig winning the league for the first time.

With the Bundesliga up and running it is a positive for the leagues of Europe to follow. La Liga in Spain plans to start on June 8th, Serie A the 13th or 20th of June and the Premier League on June 19h.

The FAI’s plan

Four SSE Airtricity League clubs – Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Bohemians will be the guinea pigs for the league, which will see them begin training first and then followed by a return to playing, in a behind closed doors tournament, as part of a pilot programme for a return to football for everyone.

The four clubs players and staff began their covid testing this week and they can resume training on June 8th. These four clubs will participate in a four-team tournament at a neutral venue, ahead of their European Club competition games in late July/August.

The four-team tournament will provide all stakeholders with an opportunity to learn in the current environment from these games, thus providing a safer template for the League and following this for amateur leagues across the country to begin.

All other SSE Airtricity League squads can return to collective training on June 29th under Phase Three of the Government’s Roadmap For Reopening Society and Business, with players and staff undergoing regular COVID-19 testing.

The FAI Medical Team will provide a detailed and transparent analysis of the testing results to stakeholders, government agencies and UEFA on an ongoing basis. As Dr Byrne has repeatedly said safety is the paramount decision: “The safety of all our players, from the elite players in the League of Ireland to the schoolboys who want to get back on the pitch with their clubs, their health and safety must come first. This is the first step and a significant step in that process.”

Irish international Jack Byrne of Shamrock Rovers was swab tested yesterday and he told FAI TV: “I think we’re taking the right measures to come back to football in time and in a safe way. Football is such a huge part of this country and we need to take these steps for football to return, from the league to the grassroots. I can’t wait to return and get back to playing football.”

One thing is for certain if the LOI does start again at the end of August the first rounds of games will not have any crowds in attendance. And no crowds means badly needed revenues are lost which has to be addressed. The FAI have said they will be meeting with clubs to discuss those issues in June. Sean Barret, director of Derry City Fc said: “My hope is that we play a few matches behind closed doors and then bring the capacity up to 25% of stadiums and then 50% which would help significantly. There is a long way to go but if we can play with 50% of capacity come September or October, that would help finances a lot”.

All we can do for now is wait and see if the FAI’s plans work.

Words Alan Phelan 

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