The Irish Football Association has welcomed the decision to continue allowing fans into games at elite level but has called for financial support in the wake of Covid-19 crowd restrictions.
Northern Ireland’s new health protection regulations came into force at 6pm on Friday and led to confusion at the opening game of the Danske Bank Premiership season between Coleraine and Ballymena.
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Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry said some fans were initially kept outside as they sought clarity from police whether they could enter, while Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster responded by stating the regulations “do not ban spectators in the grounds of elite sports”.
IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson said in a statement on the Association’s website: “The football industry in Northern Ireland, from governing body and NIFL level to right through the pyramid, has worked tirelessly to ensure protocols are in place for the safe return of fans at games.
“We have proven, just last week when we had 600 impeccably behaved supporters at our UEFA Nations League game against Austria, and at the Irish Cup final in July, that games with fans can take place safely at the National Stadium at Windsor Park and we know our clubs in the NIFL have similarly been engaging with fans to do likewise.
“We are committed to playing our part in reducing the threat of Covid-19 in this country, however we will continue to press the Northern Ireland Executive on what financial measures will be offered to the football industry in Northern Ireland as the income streams of both the Association and its member clubs has been severely reduced by the capacity restrictions on spectators.”
Northern Ireland host Slovakia in a Euro 2020 play-off on November 12 and manager Ian Baraclough is hoping there will be a lot more than the 600 people who attended the Austria game inside Windsor Park.
UEFA rules permit 30 per cent of a stadium’s capacity, which could allow for 6,000 fans in attendance.
An NIFL statement said: “The NI Football League has held a meeting with Premiership clubs to provide an update on the events and, while there have been many frustrations of the situation we were placed in in the last 24 hours, today is a day to let football do the talking.
“NI Football League officials will be requesting a further meeting with government officials as a matter of urgency but today we would remind all spectators to follow PHA guidance and all protocols as directed by clubs.”
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