First Division Alliance confirm no boycott to take place but will play 'under protest'

The First Division Alliance (FDA) have released a statement this morning clarifying their stance on the issue of the 2020 First Division season.

The clubs, after discussions with FAI CEO Gary Owens and Deputy CEO Niall Quinn – have confirmed that no boycott will take place, but they will play Shamrock Rovers II ‘under protest’.

In a lengthy statement released, the FDA admitted to considering the possibility of legal action but have decided not to do so, citing that it would be ‘excessive’ to do so. 

In addition, they have received assurances from both Quinn and Owens that a full review of the League of Ireland will take place in the next six months.

Meanwhile, the clubs in the second tier ‘will play against a ‘B’ team for the 2020 Season, but for the 2020 Season only.’

Statement in full

The First Division Alliance have been in ongoing discussions with the CEO and Deputy CEO of the FAI in recent weeks regarding the participation of Development teams in the League of Ireland First Division. We are pleased that the Interim Chief Executive of the FAI, Gary Owens, acknowledges that the process through which a ‘B’ Team has been admitted to the First Division could have been more engaging of all the clubs in both the Premier League and First Division.

The FDA have considered the possibility of legal action to prevent a ‘Development’ team from participating in the First Division and we (based on advice) were confident of a successful action. However, the potential disruption of a lengthy legal action would be excessive and would delay significantly the beginning of the League. We do not believe this would be in the best interests of our supporters, players, volunteers or indeed of football in Ireland, especially at this time.

We understand that a full review of the League of Ireland will be driven by the FAI in the next 6 months and that this will involve all elements of Structure, Participation and Governance. Given the opposition of the majority of clubs to ‘Development’ team participation in the League of Ireland, we would, along with many Premier Division clubs, welcome the consideration of various options in a future structure to assist with player pathway and development as opposed to the fragmented structures that currently exist for clubs in all sectors for our younger players.

We are pleased that the review will include the National League Executive Committee and the Participation Agreement. The obvious neglect, in our opinion, of good Corporate Governance by the National League Executive Committee during this process shows that this Committee, as it stands, is not reflective of the views and needs of all our clubs. Our view is that all FAI Committees need Independent Chairpersons and training in the basic concepts of Corporate Governance, and this, we believe, should be a key tenet of any review.

Having considered the above, and the assurances we have received from Gary Owens and Niall Quinn, our clubs will play against a ‘B’ team for the 2020 Season, but for the 2020 Season only. However, our clubs will participate in the 2020 Airtricity Season under protest and our clubs and club officials will continue to highlight our views regarding ‘Development’ teams throughout the season.

It has been agreed that Shamrock Rovers’ ‘B’ team will name a panel of specific U21 players only for the 2020 Season. They will only be able to utilise one outfield player and one goalkeeper from their A team panel in any match day squad. The FDA also requested that a ‘B’ team not be allowed to play any players born after 2003, given that the very idea of a player pathway is for over-19s, however this was refused.

We have already seen a number of very young players from various clubs joining Shamrock Rovers on the promise of ‘B’ team action in our league. This brings into question the very purpose of Academies and their role in Irish football. We do not believe this approach is right in terms of child welfare/safety, which questions (in our view) the sporting integrity of the games and, indeed, the League. However, we understand underage structures will form part of the review alluded to above

We realise that many of our fans would have preferred us to boycott matches against any ‘Development’ team, but the potential sanctions that we may face could put the very future of our clubs in jeopardy which we are not prepared to risk.

We would like to thank a number of Premier Division clubs (who are unhappy with the uneven playing field) for their support during this process. It is with this backing that we are so confident that our position is supported by the majority of clubs in the League of Ireland and that the solution above will be for one season only. We look forward to working with our fellow LOI clubs and with the FAI in developing a revamped League structure that will enable a domestic National League to flourish for the benefit of all stakeholders, in particular our young players and communities.