SPFL chief confident new season will start on time despite Covid testing glitches

But clubs vote against giving board “express powers” to take decisions in the event of future coronavirus disruption

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

Scottish Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster is confident the new Premiership season will go ahead as scheduled next weekend despite glitches in the Covid-19 testing system.

Doncaster was speaking after the first meeting of the new SPFL board of directors which confirmed they had failed in their bid to secure “express powers” to take any decisions in the event of coronavirus disrupting the 2020-21 campaign.

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He said: “We continue to work with the health authorities and the Scottish Government and are looking forward with confidence to the resumption of matches next weekend.”

St Mirren had to cancel a friendly against St Johnstone this weekend after seven members of their backroom staff tested positive for coronavirus. However, after further screening, six of those results were shown to be false.

The Scottish FA have also written to Hibs, Rangers and Motherwell after recent delays in receiving test results. That forced the late call-off of a friendly between Hibs and Ross County last weekend, while kick-off in the game between Rangers and Motherwell at Ibrox on Wednesday was put back two hours.

Rangers have also been asked to clarify the testing status of B team players who took part in a friendly against Dundee United earlier that day.

While Rangers have made no public comment, they are understood to be one of a number of clubs who have privately expressed unhappiness to members of the Scottish FA/SPFL Joint Response Group over the efficiency of the current testing process.

In the wake of the initial positive tests at St Mirren, the JRG ordered Premiership clubs to return to twice-weekly testing. In the previous three weeks, with just one round of tests carried out each week, only one positive result – at Aberdeen – was returned.

Celtic and Ross County both bought their own coronavirus testing equipment in preparation for the return to action, while most other clubs are believed to have hired 
Cignpost, a healthcare firm which is also involved with golf’s European Tour and were recommended by the JRG.

Doncaster added: “Scottish football is acutely aware of how vital it is that everyone adheres strictly to the various restrictions and testing regimes.

“There can be no complacency, but we are heartened by the rigorous way that clubs, players and officials have responded to Covid-19 since March.

“With such regular testing being carried out by SPFL clubs, it is inevitable that several players or coaching staff will have tested positive. This has happened, as it has also happened in leagues around the world. What is vital is that clubs manage those very few confirmed positive tests such that the virus does not spread. So far, the rigorous work that our clubs have carried out has ensured that this is the case.

Following the acrimony and controversy which surrounded the voting process which eventually allowed the SPFL board to curtail the 2019-20 season, most contentiously relegating Hearts and Partick Thistle, a resolution was circulated last month which would have meant such decisions could be taken without consultation with the 42 members clubs.

It failed to achieve the required 75 percent threshold of support from clubs throughout the four divisions of the SPFL, although the door has been left open for any fresh attempt to hand the board greater power.

“Following a discussion at this morning’s SPFL board meeting, the board have agreed to move forward in line with the clear will of the clubs,” said an SPFL statement. “As a result, the existing rules will remain in place for season 2020-21, unless any member decides that it wishes to bring forward their own resolution in this area.”

The SPFL board also approved the use of five substitutes in the Betfred and Challenge Cups for the new season, while recommending the rule change is also applied to the Premiership.

That will be determined by a vote of the 12 Premiership clubs next week and will need at least nine of them to support it. Clubs in the Championship, League 1 and League 2, where curtailed 27-game seasons are scheduled to start on 17 October, will be offered the same option closer to that date.

“With a more compressed fixture calendar than we are used to, the board approved the use of five substitutes in our cup competitions primarily out of a concern for player welfare,” said Doncaster.

“With teams expected to play more frequently and with shorter periods for recovery, the use of additional players in matches will help clubs spread the load throughout the season.

“It is also hoped that this amendment will assist player development, allowing more young players to get experience of competitive senior football during the 2020-21 season.

“The proposal will now go to Premiership clubs to vote on. A resolution to this effect will be circulated to the Scottish Premiership clubs shortly.”

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