Tier 2 football in Wales could be in line for a return – and there is a ray of hope for Tier 3 too.
The FAW have applied to Sport Wales for a new ‘Elite’ status to be considered in relation to bringing domestic football back.
The Tier 1 Cymru Premier and Welsh Premier Women’s leagues are already classed as Elite and began operating in September, albeit with no spectators.
Now the FAW have asked for the T2 Cymru North and Cymru South to return on the same ‘Elite’ basis, although the classification may be called something different.
And it is believed Tier 3 is also part of the application, although this may take longer to implement.
However, Tiers 4 and 5 look set to remain non-starters until the coronavirus ends or a suitable vaccine is found.
And Tier 3 could still end up in the same boat.
Leagues at these levels would struggle badly to operate within the 30-person limit.
Continued uncertainty over the prospect of tier 3-5 football in Wales being played this season has led to one club chairman calling on the FAW to take decisive action.
“Call an end to any hopes of football until next season and refund clubs their money,” says Darren Meredith, of tier 3 Saltney Town FC.
Mr Meredith wants the governing body to put lower tier clubs like his out of their misery with the Welsh Government again refusing to relax its rule on limiting outdoor gatherings to 30 persons only.
This week clubs were invited to a webinar where the FAW and FAW Trust confirmed what newest Welsh Government Covid-19 guidelines meant for football.
Key information from the Government announcement, applicable for domestic football, were:
1 Outdoor gatherings continued to be limited to 30 persons only.
2 Local lockdowns were lifted, meaning no restrictions on travel in Wales for all people (including amateur players).
3 The return of Elite status (Cymru Premier League and Welsh Premier Women’s League) from Monday 9th November
4 A new Elite status cohort would be considered, which must sit between the existing elite cohort and community sport.
Regarding point four, this means a good possibility of tier 2 Cymru North and Cymru South beginning their seasons.
The FAW submitted its application to Welsh Government on Friday for a new cohort to be included in the new/revised elite definition and they await a decision on this.
The Welsh Government states: “Sport Wales has been provided with the responsibility to consider further additions to the Elite designation to enable more team sports to be played outdoors where the 30 person gathering number has been restrictive.
“This will be done in a controlled and phased way where clear guidance is in place by sport governing bodies to protect all participants.”
It is believed the FAW have included tier 3 in their application too, but it is unclear whether Sport Wales will accept it.
If T3 was permitted to return, it would likely come back a little later than T2, purely due to the work needed for the limited staff having to do all the relevant Covid compliance checks at the grounds.
Also, it has not been confirmed any new status will be classed as Elite. Sport Wales may put a different category to it.
Elite is being used because that’s what terminology was applied previously.
When actually confirmed it could be called something else.
In a message to the Welsh Government and FAW, Saltney Town chairman Mr Meredith said: “No matter how many petitions are done, you have shown you have no intention of any understanding or movement on this from Government level, so isn’t it time the FAW do the right thing here now?
“There is no chance of football with these rules of 30 they won’t loosen, so call an end to any hopes of football until next season and refund clubs their money.
“No grant or payment you give is coming anywhere near the cost of running a club, and ours don’t pay a penny to players so I’m not even talking about that hard luck story clubs are giving.
“My players, of which 30% live in England could have been playing since Aug 3rd, and had several opportunities, but turned them down to stay loyal to us.
“Why is Wales being treated so differently to other UK nations regarding OUTDOOR sport?
“I also have several players capable and probably should be playing at Tier 2 level. You now seem set to grant Elite status to Tier 2. Let us all play or draw a line under below Tier 2 and do the right thing so our players can look at their options.
“You won’t get Tier 3 and under playing, and this could hurt my club, but I would rather see my players get the chance, even if that’s in England, or at a higher level, and hope they come back to us than this constant limbo, so far reached from other countries.
“They are getting a raw deal compared to in our case, players literally living across the road.
“We’re not asking much here as a football family, especially in line with pubs open, universities open, supermarkets packed, all indoors. Time to think of your people.”
Mr Meredith added: “Maximum 30 for what is essentially a 45 person maximum requirement for football to run properly with easily abided social distance practice adhered, just doesn’t make sense.
“Half baked friendlies where I need to exclude paid up members of the squad, tell the groundsman, assistant-manager or even chairman they can’t watch their team play that they put hours into voluntarily, even if stood 5m away from anyone else.
“Add that to rule that parents can’t watch their children in a socially distant manner begs the question do any of you even know what a football pitch and ground looks like?
“22 players on the pitch, 1 referee, 2 assistants if necessary on the field. 3 – 5 subs, 3 members of management team either side of the halfway line can easily be spaced out 2m. Covid officers, committee members on the opposite side of the pitch the same.
“Fair enough if you want no spectators, we’d all accept that for senior football.
“The linear metreage of a junior pitch? Ranges from what, 60m to 100m plus? How can there not be safe space to social distance? Other walks of life with FAR less Covid measures are allowed to operate.”