THIS weekend's underage League of Ireland games featuring Cork City and Cobh Ramblers' underage soccer teams have been cancelled.
The FAI had hoped to restart the competitive programme from U13 up to U19 in the coming days but have been forced to pull the plug at short notice. Given the GAA's minor and U20 championships resume this month, the FAI clearly felt they had the all-clear to stage their 'elite' underage competitions as well.
By the same token, underage sport at club level is still restricted to outdoor non-contact training (even for indoor sports like basketball) in pods of 15, so it would have been quite a contrast for Cork City and Cobh Ramblers' teams to be travelling nationally for full matches.
A statement explained: "The Football Association of Ireland is disappointed to inform its players, coaches, parents/guardians, volunteers and supporters that the return of all underage National League matches for boys and girls from U13 to U19 level, beginning this weekend, has been cancelled on the guidance of Government.
"The Association had felt that the broader new Level 3 Covid-19 guidelines issued by government would allow for the resumption of elite Underage football as it had done before the Level 5 lockdown but it has been made clear to us that this is not the case.
"The FAI regrets the need to have to issue this directive given Irish football’s widespread adherence to the guidelines to date and the negligible number of Covid-19 cases within our underage National Leagues and grassroots games that are run with great efficiency and care by our loyal administrators, volunteers and employees.
"We are now asking all parties to review the next steps necessary to facilitate a safe return to playing matches for all our players and clubs across all levels – elite football, adult amateur and underage - at the earliest opportunity. We remain committed to working with our partners to allow for the return of competitive football for all ages and all levels of the game as soon as it is possible in this Covid-19 pandemic.
"The FAI will always respect the prevailing government’s Covid-19 guidelines in place at any given time. We assure government that football will abide by these Level 3 guidelines and reminds all affiliates of our responsibility in this regard.
"Adult amateur and underage clubs are reminded that they can train outdoors, non-contact in pods of 15 with one coach minimum per adult team and two for underage teams, as per the FAI Safer Return to Training Protocol and Level 3 Government guidelines."