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Quinn aiming to come up with rescue package

League of Ireland: Key questions answered

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AMBITION: Niall Quinn is determined to re-start football in Ireland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

AMBITION: Niall Quinn is determined to re-start football in Ireland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

AMBITION: Niall Quinn is determined to re-start football in Ireland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It was UEFA and the Government that put together a deal that saved the FAI from financial ruin and they look set to be key actors again in the attempts to save the 2020 League of Ireland season.

Niall Quinn, the FAI's interim deputy CEO, joined the 'LOI Weekly' podcast yesterday to outline the state of play with regard to attempts to bring football back behind closed doors when health authorities give it the all-clear; a complex debate that has split opinions.

Here are the key questions he sought to address as players, clubs, and officials wait to see if the governing body can put together a satisfactory package.

Health

Nothing can happen without the Government and the HSE's approval and the FAI are expecting answers in the next 24 hours on queries they raised with regard to the roadmap that seemed to indicate team sports would be allowed from July 20 (no fans) and August 10 (limited fans) although the FAI are preparing for behind closed doors as a start point.

Safety remains a concern of players who want to get back on the pitch and the cost of testing is a headache for cash-strapped clubs. Quinn has suggested the FAI are looking to cover that area.

"We are hoping to have a guaranteed pot of money that takes care of that," he said. "We may have an underwrite that will pay for the medical requirements."

Grounds

The use of neutral venues has been flagged with Quinn stating that a smaller number of grounds would allow the FAI to put a professional team in each one that would manage the relevant match-day operations - with games spread across a week rather than all taking place concurrently.

However, regional clubs have expressed fears about the cost of travelling to play matches with the former Ireland striker saying the finance package would help although this is sure to remain a sticking point.

"We are trying to find a way of playing these games safely with no responsibility to the clubs, and that would keep the integrity of the competition," he said.

The Aviva Stadium is in the mix for a July tournament for European clubs which Quinn says could be a guide for other sports as well as the FAI themselves if they have to play Dublin internationals without fans later this year - a situation that now seems likely.

"We had good conversations with grounds outside of our own 19, it's known about the Aviva," said Quinn, who interestingly implied that other venues had been canvassed.

First division

Could 2020 be Premier only? Quinn asserted that First Division clubs are on board, even though UEFA told the FAI they could explore calling it off.

"That was never in our thinking," said Quinn. "They all want to play, and wrote to us to say they would do everything to help us get back behind closed doors.

"It's not as difficult for them in terms of reaching a (financial) number that satisfies them as they don't have the costs of some bigger Premier clubs"

Streaming

Quinn said streaming games is a part of their vision, but hinted earnings from it would be a welcome boost that bridges a gap rather than an essential element of the return-to-play equation.

He said they had squared their situation with overseas rights holders Trackchamp, who hold the rights for fixtures on gambling sites.

Quinn said the FAI were "within our rights" to sell to non-bettors based abroad, and did reference the Irish diaspora, referencing that undisclosed parties that had expressed interest would have to put their money where their mouth is.

At home, while RTÉ and eir retain rights for a selected number of games, he believes diehard fans could be offered packages that allow them to see all of their club's games. Major question marks hang over this area but the Dubliner's insistence was that this won't make or break the issue.

"We wouldn't be going to the clubs saying, 'We're going to tell you to take a big risk now on streaming and if it comes in, it comes in, and if it doesn't, we're all in trouble'," he said.

Finance

This is the key point. If it's not streaming, then where are the FAI going to get cash from to convince clubs to say yes?

The retention of the wage subsidy scheme for the duration of the season - as flagged in yesterday's Irish Independent - was mentioned. Quinn said he didn't want to jeopardise "fruitful" talks with other parties by revealing their identity, adding that all avenues were being exhausted.

FIFA support has been mooted throughout, but UEFA was given greater mention with Quinn saying they would "look on us more favourably" if they didn't cancel the season. "Government will too," he added, "but we need a little bit of help everywhere. That is starting to show. We can't cancel the risk totally with the minimum pot we will guarantee.

"Effectively we are trying to replace gate income and then you have a medical bill on top. We would hope that it (gap) will be (small) enough to say let's rally around and go for it."

Doomsday

What if clubs say no? Quinn was strong on this, stating that economic experts canvassed warned the FAI that it could be extremely hard to resurrect the brand nine months from now.

More pertinently, he also conceded that the PFAI solicitor Stuart Gilhooly was "talking sense" when he said player contracts would pose an issue if the 2020 season was declared a non-runner due to cash concerns. No other summer league is contemplating that scenario

"We'll have some very difficult conversations and I believe the brand would suffer immeasurably," said Quinn. "We must prevent this from happening and do everything possible to get the show back on the road. The alternative is awful for our players.

"I fully understand the frustration and negativity but we have a directive from UEFA to try as hard as we can to keep the leagues operable."