Irish Premiership: NIFL to introduce sanctions for clubs if they breach Covid-19 guidelines

Gibson Cup
The race for the Gibson Cup started in October this season due to Covid-19

The Northern Ireland Football League is set to introduce sanctions for clubs that breach Covid-19 guidelines.

Fines or possible docking of points will be used if the rules are not adhered to.

The strengthened coronavirus policy will be introduced as the Irish Premiership returns on Saturday after a two-week circuit breaker due to a rise in positive cases.

Covid-19 testing will be rolled out to all teams on Thursday.

Football's top tier was halted amid growing concerns from players and officials over their safety as case numbers increased rapidly across Northern Ireland.

Fines will be handed out if clubs do not adhere to a list of guidelines which include numbers of agreed match personnel at venues, social distancing and use of face coverings in technical areas as well as misuse of changing rooms and inappropriate use of boardrooms for hospitality.

Clubs can also be penalised if there is continued non-compliance of social distancing in spectator areas when fans return to Irish League grounds.

Points deductions will be considered by an independent panel for what is deemed the most serious breach - if a club fails to provide full disclosure in the event of a positive case.

The Covid-19 testing being introduced this week for teams and officials is funded by NIFL and the Irish FA, with the programme set to run initially for four weeks with a review after three.

The tests will be lateral flow and administered this Thursday, with a 15-30 minute result time. Fines will also be issued for non-compliance of the league's new testing protocol.

It is unclear whether NIFL will also give guidance about goal celebrations, but clubs may be expected to follow the lead of the Premier League teams in England who were instructed last week that handshakes, high fives and hugs must be avoided.

Clubs must 'lead by example' - McKendry

Colin McKendry
Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry said the introduction of testing will give players confidence

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry welcomed the introduction of the sanctions and stressed the importance of clubs following the guidelines.

"It's vital that clubs lead by example because there are a large number of people who would love to be in our position of being able to look forward to playing football this weekend," he said.

"Hopefully the sanctions will not have to be used as everyone will be adhering to the protocols.

"The reaction of any chairman to the sanctions should be that they are there to back up the back to play protocols that were identified at the outset of the pandemic. They are there to protect everyone within the game, to make sure that it is played in a safe environment.

"They are there for a reason - to ensure that we do what we have been asked to to to ensure everyone is safe. We are in a very fortunate position where we are able to play our football."

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