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LOI clubs prepare to make big cuts

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Finn Teemu Penninkangas has already left Sligo and Ireland

Finn Teemu Penninkangas has already left Sligo and Ireland

SPORTSFILE

Finn Teemu Penninkangas has already left Sligo and Ireland

It is understood that three more League of Ireland clubs are preparing to follow the example of Sligo Rovers and stop paying wages to all staff, including players, due to the financial crisis brought on by coronavirus as clubs have been told by the FAI that football will not resume for three months.

Sligo became the first Premier Division club to confirm that they had taken drastic action due to the impact that Covid-19 has had with the shutdown of the season.

Rovers confirmed in a statement that they had temporarily laid off all of their employees, from coaching and playing staff to club officials and the groundsman.

First Division side Drogheda United had earlier this week stated that they would stop paying player wages until the crisis had eased and the club was in a position to bring in revenue again.

It's believed that three other top-flight clubs have plans to take similar action in a matter of days, either stopping the payment of wages to players and coaching staff only, or also the entire club staff.

At a meeting of the FAI and the National League Executive Committee yesterday, the FAI said their advice from UEFA was to hope that football can resume in early-mid June, with June 19 now the target date for matches.

A number of other clubs are adopting a 'wait and see' stance and are keen to continue paying wages for the time being, but at least two clubs have reportedly told players that their wages will be paid until June.

Players' union, the PFAI, did not comment on the Sligo case, but player representatives at each Premier club have been in touch with their union and some have expressed fears for the payment of player wages during what is expected to be at least a three-month period when there is no football played.

But player reps also stated their concerns over accommodation bills for players who have either relocated to the club from their home town or players who have been brought to the club from abroad.

There is another complication over the terms of player contracts. Some clubs pay their players for a 52-week contract, so they expect to be paid for the duration of the crisis.

But other teams who have a 42-week contract agreement may declare that the contract terms are temporarily on hold and payment will resume when football, and gate receipts, are back.

Clubs will make sure that players who are seen as prize assets and could be sold to clubs abroad will continue to get their wages, so the player cannot leave on a free transfer if wages have not been paid, but players further down the food chain at certain clubs will be more nervous.

Liam Buckley's club left no room for doubt in a statement issued yesterday, saying they had "no option" but to lay off their staff.

"We must act in the best interest of our club in the long-term," the club said. "Last Tuesday An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlined that the coronavirus crisis would extend into a lengthy period.

"This was an expected announcement and made it even clearer to us that League of Ireland football cannot resume until the summer at the earliest, and likely later.

"Our income streams, like nearly all other businesses in the country, have been decimated and we simply cannot afford to function at our full cost level while having little or no income.

"To do anything else would be reckless and would put the very future of Sligo Rovers under severe threat."

Their statement added that players would get the statutory Covid-19 entitlement of €203 a week; that players would "return to their regular wage" upon the resumption of the league; and that players from outside Ireland would be assisted in attempts to return to their native country.

It's understood that Will Seymore (USA) and Teemu Penninkangas (Finland) have already left Sligo to make their way home while New Zealand international Ryan de Vries, who had only just made his Sligo debut, is also due to depart.

Sligo added their hope that the club, bottom of the Premier Division table with no points from four games before the season was halted, can recover.

"Taking this step today has been the hardest decision we have undertaken in our role of committee members, but we feel it is the correct one, we need to be decisive and show leadership to preserve our club," Sligo stated.

"We add that not one member of our board is paid in any way or receives any expense, many other volunteers give endless commitment to Sligo Rovers too.

"Our priority has always been our club, and our staff, as an organisation immersed in and funded by the local community.

"The road forward from this crisis is not a clear one, we know this temporary measure will have a major impact in the lives of our staff. We are taking it to ensure there is a future.

"We also recognise the widespread business closures in the area which is very visible in any drive through Sligo town and county. The effects this will have on our community will be significant.

"We know it will also bring great concern to our fans and sponsors. Our community and supporter base provides extraordinary support that defies logic and helps sustain our club.

"Our promise as a committee is to get through this period and return with a sustainable and healthy Sligo Rovers."