The Championship Management Committee met last night and voted, by a two thirds majority, to void the 20/21 Championship season. This was not the outcome that we had hoped for, however eight of the twelve clubs believed that the NIFL could not guarantee when, or even if, Championship football would be allowed to commence. Consequently, it was considered that the completion of the proposed, and already curtailed, 22 game season would not be possible. Furthermore, it was agreed that any promotion/relegation based on even fewer games would not be fair or appropriate.
As a club, we feel that the decision may have been a little premature given the review of current lockdown arrangements that are due in mid-February. Nonetheless, we understand the concerns of other clubs in relation to the continual uncertainty related to the Covid regulations and we must respect the outcome of a legitimate majority vote.
We have been adamant throughout that the key aspect of our current situation is directly related to the decision taken by the Irish FA at the start of the season not to classify the Championship as elite. Indeed, unless this situation is rectified, Championship clubs may very well be in the same situation next season. Consequently, we would encourage the NIFL, the Irish FA, and the Northern Ireland Executive to seriously consider the potential long-term damage that may be caused to clubs, players, supporters, and even to the NIFL itself. Particularly given that a recent FIFA statement identifies solidarity and a healthy promotion/relegation pyramid as crucial to the integrity of the game.
In the meantime, clubs are considering proposals for some form of regionalised competition to be held in April/May, Covid regulations permitting. These regionalised competitions would involve both Championship and Premier Intermediate clubs, which in the case of the North West region would include Institute, Ballinamallard, Dergview, Limavady, Portstewart, and Tobermore. Discussions are currently ongoing regarding the perspectives of players, coaches and clubs with regard to both the utility and the financial viability of those proposals and the club will provide further updates in due course.
In the meantime, we would like to thank all our players, coaches, volunteers, supporters and sponsors for their forbearance and loyalty during this extremely difficult period. We offer our condolences to any of our community who have been directly affected by this pandemic and we hope that together we can soon begin to look forward to better times.
On behalf of the Board of Institute FC.