Scottish football shutdown: No guarantees clubs will return in February, SFA chief warns

Scottish football outwith the top two SPFL divisions shutdown for the remainder of January on Monday, and SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell doesn’t know if they’ll all be back in February.
SFA Chief Executive Ian MaxwellSFA Chief Executive Ian Maxwell
SFA Chief Executive Ian Maxwell

Action was taken to curb the steep rise in coronavirus cases seen across the country, and the decision based primarily on the part-time and full-time status of players at each level of the national game.

The decision was not related to the furore over a positive case at SPFL champions Celtic who spent last week at a controversial training camp in Dubai – but simply risk based according to Maxwell. January 31 falls in line with Government restriction reviews and lower levels of football will now also be considered.

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He said: “Obviously the government are going to review their restrictions and regulations - we’ll be doing that together.

“Right now I don’t know if we can get some football back in three weeks - will it be all football? Or is there going to be another stage in between? We’ll have to have discussions over that period and see what the situation is like.”

Football though, remains an important staple of Scotland – shutdown or otherwise.

He added: “We are in lockdown for a reason. We want to see it having an impact and the number of cases reduce and if that happens and restrictions are lifted then we can look at what happens with the game. We absolutely hope that is the case.

“I think the only circumstances under which the Premiership and Championship would fall is if the professional sport exemption is revoked, similar to the March lockdown when nothing was happening.

“The Scottish Government has been very clear that they want professional sport to continue. They see the benefits not only to the players but the people who are able to watch it and read about it. We have a Premiership on Sky, a Championship on the BBC that gives people the opportunity to watch a game every weekend.

“We made the decision based on full-time and part-time, effectively. If a full-time player is leaving his house to go to training in a protocol-heavy environment when they go back home I’m not saying there is no risk but obviously it is limited. In a part-time environment players are going to work and then training, there is potentially a lot more mixing of individuals. That was why we took the decision we did given the increased transmission rate of the new strain.”

Finances though for clubs unable to even sell pay-per-view online streams of games, is a concern. Government funding has delivered grants to the lower leagues and loans to the top flight in the SPFL – “really, really timely” according to Maxwell.

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“The government funding that clubs from the Championship down have got will cover that in the vast majority. So that’s been really timely.

“From a Premiership perspective it’s more challenging. I don’t think anybody expected us still to be testing to the costs that we are. I would understand completely if Premiership clubs are now looking towards the end of the season and really starting to feel the squeeze. I’m not saying things are reaching a perilous situation but that could happen given the circumstances which have been going on for so long.”

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