Scottish football faces 'existential crisis', Government told

SPFL chief exec: "Until we get back to playing in front of crowds, our game will remain in grave peril. The longer we are unable to play matches in Scotland, the more essential will be significant financial support for our hard-pressed national sport."

A view of Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland

The Scottish Government has been warned the future of football in the country is under threat during talks confirming the return of sport is some distance away.

Sporting bodies were told the focus remains on slowing the spread of Covid-19 but minister for sport Joe FitzPatrick declared the conference call "constructive" and promised more meetings to discuss a "phased return".

However, Scottish Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster warned that financial support from government was needed with the game in "grave peril".

FitzPatrick was joined by Scotland's national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, in hearing the concerns of the SPFL, Scottish Football Association, Scottish Rugby Union, Sport Scotland and Scottish Racing.

While English football works towards a possible June return following talks with the UK Government, Scottish football representatives have named September as the most ambitious target and there are concerns there will be no fans allowed in grounds next season.

Doncaster said after the meeting: "We gave the minister a frank summary of the existential crisis our game is facing. Gate receipts make up a far higher proportion of our income than in England, which benefits from huge TV deals, so until we get back to playing in front of crowds, our game will remain in grave peril.

"It was encouraging to hear the minister recognise the social and health benefits of football in Scotland, which generates hundreds of millions of pounds for the Scottish economy annually.

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SPFL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster pictured at Hampden Park
Image: Not being able to play in front of crowds will having a crippling effect on the Scottish game, says Neil Doncaster

"As sport is a devolved responsibility, we'll continue to be guided by the Scottish Government's health experts on when we are able to resume matches, but that looks to be some while away.

"We have already seen the UK Government pledging £16million support to Rugby League in England to prevent it from being devastated by Covid-19.

"The longer we are unable to play matches in Scotland, the more essential will be significant financial support for our hard-pressed national sport."

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FitzPatrick made no assurances over financial support immediately after the meeting but promised to keep working closely with sporting bodies.

The Dundee City West MSP said in a statement: "Everyone involved in these discussions recognises the importance of sport to many people in Scotland and wants to see it resume as soon as possible.

"We all agree that can only happen once it is safe to do so - and the focus at the moment must be the continuation of measures to slow the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.

"It's important all organisations continue to share best practice and information as well as learning from other countries, as we have to develop a phased return for sport which reflects Scotland's circumstances.

"I'm encouraged by today's constructive initial talks and confident further partnership working will enable that to happen safely and at the right time.

"The group will maintain an open dialogue in the weeks ahead to share any relevant information and discuss phased return options."

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell declared himself "encouraged" by the government input.

"We outlined the pragmatic steps that we believe can assist in safeguarding the survival of our clubs in the short term, and in the coming weeks help clubs emerge from lockdown and begin the process of preparing for the reintroduction of football," Maxwell added.

"We also reiterated that supporters attending matches is a fabric of Scottish football, and integral to the match-day experience and future viability of the sport."

Scottish Rugby generic
Image: Dominic McKay from the SRU said the meeting was encouraging

The Scottish Rugby Union described the meeting as "positive".

SRU chief operating officer Dominic McKay added: "This is an encouraging first meeting which generated constructive dialogue and a timely chance to collaborate with other sports.

"We would welcome the opportunity to meet again and agreed to share any relevant information and learnings we have with both Scottish Government and other sports to aid progress at this time."

Dominic Raab
Image: Dominic Raab says the return of sport can boost the morale of the nation

Return of sport 'would lift spirits of the nation'

Speaking during Tuesday's UK government briefing, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said ministers are looking at sports being played behind closed doors in the second phase of the coronavirus response.

"I think it would lift the spirits of the nation. I think people would like to see us get back not just to work and get to a stage where children can safely return to school, but also enjoy some of those pastimes, sporting in particular," Raab said.

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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insists medics and scientists will dictate when competitive football can return on a closed-doors basis in the UK

"I know that the Government has had constructive meetings with sports bodies to plan for athletes to resume training when it's safe to do so.

"I can tell you that the Culture Secretary (Oliver Dowden) has also been working on a plan to get sports played behind closed doors when we move to the second phase, that's something I can tell you we're looking at.

"Whether it's a combination of test, tracking, tracing and other social distancing measures within what's possible within a sporting environment we want to see whether behind closed doors what the options are for doing that."

Andrew Robertson during a training session at The Oriam on November 12, 2019
Image: Scotland captain Andy Robertson is inspired by the selflessness of NHS staff

Scotland football teams make NHS donations

Scotland's men's and women's national football teams have teamed up to make a substantial donation to NHS Charities Together to support frontline workers across Scotland and the UK.

Captains Andy Robertson and Rachel Corsie have joined forces to recognise the efforts of nurses, doctors, medical, volunteers, and support staff who are working hard to keep the nation safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Liverpool full-back Robertson said: "We have all been at home, taking the advice of medical advisers and watching the news that highlights the heroic efforts of our NHS. We have all been inspired by the selflessness of nurses, doctors and all healthcare workers on the frontline - it only reinforces how vital the NHS is to our country and how we must cherish and protect this institution.

"Throughout the squad, we have players with friends and family members involved in the NHS, so when the idea was floated around the WhatsApp group chat, it was a no-brainer and unanimously the right thing to do. Rachel and the women's national team were having similar conversations and I am proud that we can demonstrate our solidarity with the wonderful NHS staff in Scotland and across the UK. On behalf of the men's national team, I say 'thank you' to you all."

Scotland Women's skipper Corsie added: "Like Andy and the men's team, we realised that any money that was due to us through the privilege of playing for our country would be better put together and used to help the country's fight against COVID-19 and especially to support the incredible efforts of our NHS staff at the front line and those supporting them.

"On behalf of the women's national team, we are proud to contribute in our own small way and proud of our NHS in Scotland."

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