Scottish football chiefs warn lack of fans at matches could have 'catastrophic' impact

The Joint Response Group, chaired by the Scottish Football Association president Rod Petrie, warned some clubs could be in 'crisis' without a financial assistance package

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Fans return to the ground during the Scottish Premiership match between Aberdeen and Kilmarnock at Pittodrie on September 12, 2020, in Aberdeen, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group) 4:00
Sky Sports News' Charles Paterson explains how the tightening of restrictions in Scotland could affect the planned test events for fans' return to stadiums

Scottish football chiefs have warned of a "catastrophic" impact on clubs if fans are locked out of games for the majority of the season.

The Joint Response Group (JRG), chaired by the Scottish Football Association president Rod Petrie, is concerned that Tuesday's decision to halt a pilot scheme to allow spectators back into stadiums across the United Kingdom amid a rise in coronavirus cases could become a "crisis" without a financial assistance package.

A JRG statement said: "The game in Scotland depends on ticket revenue far more than the vast majority of professional leagues across Europe. We usually see over five million supporters per season attending Scottish league matches - with 43 per cent of all revenue generated via gate receipts.

"The prospect of that vital income being lost for the majority of the season - far less in its entirety - could be catastrophic for many of our clubs.

"We are committed to working with government to avert that crisis."

Supporters outside the Tony Macaroni Arena watch Hibernian in Premiership action at Livingstone
Image: Supporters outside the Tony Macaroni Arena watch Hibernian in Premiership action at Livingstone

The statement revealed that Scotland's Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, Joe FitzPatrick MSP, has written to the UK Government seeking urgent discussions over financial support following the imposition of new restrictions amid fears they could remain in place for months.

Petrie said: "We understand the challenges and decisions facing the Scottish Government and society as a whole and Scottish football will continue to play its part in helping the country overcome the pandemic.

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"It is also incumbent on us to safeguard the futures of our football clubs, whilst at the same time respecting and adhering to public health guidelines.

"We welcome the correspondence from Scottish Government to the UK Minister for Sport and Civil Society and hope for a positive outcome for the national game and Scottish sport as whole."

Neil Doncaster, chief executive officer of the Scottish Professional Football League, added: "We are engaging with the Scottish Government to underline the existential threat to many of our clubs, and to the huge community, economic and sporting benefits they deliver, if this grave situation continues without meaningful public financial support.

"We therefore welcome the intervention of the Scottish Government in seeking urgent discussions with the UK Government about a package of financial recovery for Scottish sport."

Lennon wants 'smart solution' on fans

Celtic are unbeaten from their opening five games in the Scottish Premiership
Image: Neil Lennon wants to see a 'smart solution' for fans to return

Earlier, Celtic boss Neil Lennon had urged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to come up with a "smart solution" to get fans back into stadiums.

The Hoops boss - speaking from Riga as his side prepared for Thursday night's Europa League clash in the Latvian capital - said: "We have got to try to find some kind of smart solution to this going forward.

"It can't just be a closed door and that's it. There has to be some kind of middle ground or compromise we can find to make things better.

"And it's not just for football, it's for all sports because some of these sports could collapse."

Celtic have been working with the Scottish Rugby Union on drawing up measures to allow the safe returns of fans.

They had hoped to welcome a small number back for this month's clash with Motherwell before permission was denied in the aftermath of Boli Bolingoli's unauthorised trip to Spain.

But Lennon is keen to see the work put in by chief executive Peter Lawwell not to go to waste.

He said: "We haven't got a crystal ball, we can't predict when supporters are going to come back into stadiums, but I think they should endeavour to push on with it even though restrictions are being tightened.

"I know that sounds a bit contradictory but where is safer to watch a game of football - in an open-air venue or in a bar or restaurant indoors?"

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