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SFA chief eyes route map for swift return of every level of Scottish football

Celtic v Rangers – Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership – Celtic Park
(Image credit: Jeff Holmes)

Ian Maxwell is “determined” to get every level of Scottish football back in action as soon as possible after the governing body approved the return of training for Premiership clubs from June 11.

The Scottish Football Association chief executive admitted Covid-19 testing criteria was “prohibitive” but is keen to devise a route map for lower levels and the women’s game.

All Scottish football activity has been forbidden since March 13 and the suspension will only be lifted for top flight clubs’ first-team squads.

The decision, taken by the SFA board, was a formality after representatives secured backing for safety protocols from the Scottish Government last week.

National clinical director Jason Leitch clarified that teams would be limited to what was allowed in the guidelines for the route out of lockdown, which currently only allow two households to train together outside while social-distancing.

But the Scottish Professional Football League is aiming for an August 1 kick-off for its top division.

A statement from Scottish football’s Joint Response Group read:  “The suspension of football will be lifted to enable training from June 11, specifically for SPFL Premiership first-team squads only.

“Any other competitions wishing to return to training must be able to confirm their ability to meet the testing regime and other safeguarding measures agreed between the Scottish FA and the Scottish Government.

“The suspension remains in place for those competitions that cannot meet such criteria and will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.”

Ian Maxwell aims to provide clarity for all levels of football

Ian Maxwell aims to provide clarity for all levels of football (PA)

Maxwell added: “Firstly, I would stress that the conditional lifting of suspension for Scottish Premiership clubs is predicated on observing the measures outlined by Scottish Government in their route map out of lockdown.

“I would like to thank the Joint Response Group sub groups for their work in helping to produce the robust return to training protocol which has given the government the necessary comfort to provisionally plan for an August 1 restart for the Premiership.

“In particular I would like to recognise the efforts of Dr John MacLean, our medical consultant, and his medical sub group in providing clear and unambiguous guidance to clubs on the testing procedures required.

“I am also aware that other parts of the game will seek further clarity on when they may be able to resume. The testing criteria required at this stage is prohibitive but as the governing body for football we are determined to restore the national game at all levels as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.

Glasgow City are still in the Women's Champions League

Glasgow City are still in the Women’s Champions League (PA)

“I am aware of the need to provide an achievable route map for the women’s game and we are engaged with Scottish Women’s Football to discuss the practicalities for the Scottish Women’s Premier League, especially given Glasgow City’s involvement in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

“The grassroots sub group has recently issued a Q&A to the recreational game and we are in the process of looking at initiatives to keep those grassroots footballers of all ages engaged until they can return to the football pitch.”

Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson has still not ruled out some fans being present when the season kicks off.

A deal was ratified with Sky on Wednesday to allow clubs to sell virtual season tickets and live-stream their home matches amid expectations that games will be played behind closed doors.

Robertson told Rangers TV: “We are working on the basis that the season is going to start at the beginning of August. That will obviously depend on the government restrictions but at the moment it is looking as though it will be the beginning of August, probably behind closed doors initially, maybe with small crowds. There is a lot of work going on in that side of things.”

No target date has been set for other Scottish divisions but Robertson revealed the latest on plans for the Betfred Cup, which normally starts in mid-July.

“We are hoping to be back (for pre-season training) round about June 15,” he said. “There is a lot of detailed work behind the scenes there. We look forward to announcing a couple of pre-season friendlies as well, we need to get the guys up and running again, but we need to do it safely and carefully.

“It looks as though the League Cup is going to be moved back to October/November time. That’s not been confirmed yet but that’s the latest.”

Rangers are still in last season’s Europa League having lost 3-1 at home to Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of the last 16, the night before football in Scotland was suspended.

“We are still waiting to hear from UEFA as to when we will be playing the second leg of the Bayer Leverkusen tie,” Robertson said.

“Indications are early August but we have not had that confirmed. There is a UEFA executive committee meeting in mid June we’re hoping to hear then.

“That hopefully will also confirm the details of the Europa League qualifiers for next season.”