Neil Doncaster responds to 'hammer blow' as Scottish football's JRG hold government talks over crowd restrictions

Scottish football authorities are holding a series of consultations over the impact of the new restrictions on crowd sizes announced by Nicola Sturgeon.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has described the new restrictions on crowd sizes as a "hammer blow" for Scottish football (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has described the new restrictions on crowd sizes as a "hammer blow" for Scottish football (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The SFA/SPFL Joint Response Group has also said it is in discussions with the Scottish Government to ensure clubs get access to the £375m support fund highlighted by the First Minister during her Covid briefing at Holyrood on Tuesday.

Scottish football fixtures will be limited to crowds of 500 for a period of three weeks, from and including Boxing Day, as part of new measures aimed at reducing the spread of Omicron across the country.

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SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has described the news as a “hammer blow” for the game, while the JRG said it sympathises with affected clubs and supporters.

A statement read: “The JRG is already in discussions with Scottish Government on behalf of clubs to ensure any loss of income at this critical period will be compensated via the COVID-19 support fund announced by the First Minister.

“The JRG will be holding a series of consultations about the impact of the new restrictions over the next 24 hours.

“The JRG has worked collaboratively with Scottish Government throughout the pandemic to ensure the stadium environment can be a safe and enjoyable experience for all, including the recent introduction of vaccine certification spot checking and asking supporters to demonstrate a negative Lateral Flow Test prior to arrival.

“A daily testing regime has been introduced across the Scottish Professional Football League and enhanced protocols implemented for playing and team staff.

“Equally, we aware of the threat of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus and, to that end, have volunteered the use of stadia across the country to aid the vaccine and booster jab programmes.

“We appreciate the tough decisions faced by the government and clinicians in suppressing the transmission of Omicron and while we believe the mitigations implemented will have enabled stadia to be as safe as possible for the two weeks prior to the winter break, we have no control over the transport risks highlighted in today’s update.”

Celtic have asked the SPFL to cancel all fixtures during the period affected by the crowd restrictions, which will include the Old Firm match against Rangers on January 2, as well as the Edinburgh derby on January 3.

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However, the JRG statement made no reference of possible postponements, or the potential of bringing forward the planned winter shutdown of the Scottish Premiership scheduled for early January.

Rod Petrie, Joint Response Group chair, said: “Today’s announcement is a source of disappointment to hundreds of thousands of fans across the country, for whom attending football matches during the festive season has been a tradition spanning generations.

“None the less, public health remains a priority for everyone in society as well as a responsibility for industries across the country, including football. The JRG exists to be the conduit between the national game and the Scottish Government throughout the pandemic and will continue to work with our members to ensure a seamless implementation of the new restrictions, whilst working on their behalf to ensure compensation for lost revenue via the UK and Scottish Government’s latest COVID relief fund.”

Neil Doncaster, Scottish Professional Football League chief executive, added: “Today’s news will be a hammer blow to clubs and fans across the country, who simply could not have done more to mitigate the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

"Despite the enormous financial impact, the 42 clubs have provided an invaluable source of reassurance, support and relief from the day-to-day impact of COVID-19 in communities throughout Scotland and they will continue to do so.

“Our clubs have adapted quickly and effectively to previous restrictions, and we will work with them in implementing the guidance from today’s announcement in the coming days.”

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