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SFA welcomes return of lower league and women's football

All but the top two tiers of the men's game were suspended in January.

The Scottish Football Association has welcomed confirmation that the Scottish Women's Premier League One and SPFL Leagues One and Two can return to action immediately.

All but the top two tiers of the men's game were suspended in January due to increasing coronavirus concerns.

The impacted leagues were SPFL Leagues One and Two, Scottish Women's Football Premier Leagues One and Two, the Highland League, Lowland League, East, West and South of Scotland Leagues, Scottish Junior FA Leagues and the North Caledonian League.

The Scottish Premiership was exempt from the suspension, provided it continued to adhere to the stringent testing protocols, and the Championship was also able to continue as long as it commenced weekly PCR testing.

Tynecastle, home of Hearts
Football has continued at Tynecastle, home of Championship club Hearts, during the pandemic (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Speaking at her Tuesday briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The Public Health Minister will support the resumption of competitive football in Scottish Leagues One and Two, the Scottish Women's Premier League One and – for the purposes of playing Scottish Cup ties – certain Highland League teams."

In a statement released by the SFA, president Rod Petrie said: "We are pleased that the First Minister has again recognised the importance of football in Scotland.

"The decision to temporarily suspend parts of the professional game played by predominantly part-time teams was not an easy one to take.

"Nonetheless, given the sharp rise in infection rates caused by new strains of the virus at the start of the year, it was the right thing to do to assist the national effort to reduce its prevalence during lockdown.

"The preparatory work undertaken with representatives of affected leagues and their commitment to the inclusion of weekly PCR testing, has given ministers the confidence to permit the return of SWPL One and SPFL League One and Two.

"While we are pleased to see the return of these leagues, there remain significant numbers unable to return to play, including the remaining levels of the professional pyramid, elite youth football, club youth football and our amateur and grassroots clubs across both the male and female game.

"We are acutely aware of the desire within those levels of football to return to playing football and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure they are able to as soon as it is safe to do so."

The statement continued: "The parameters under which that return is allowed follows discussions between the Scottish FA and representatives of each league and based on the current SPFL Premiership and Championship Joint Response Group Protocols, including a requirement to undertake PCR testing once per week.

"Scottish Women's Football Premier League Two, Highland League, Lowland League, East, West and South of Scotland Leagues, Scottish Junior FA Leagues and the North Caledonian League all remain under temporary suspension and their return to football activity will be reviewed in line with the Scottish Government's road map out of the Covid-19 crisis.

"We will continue to liaise with representatives of those leagues in the coming weeks to establish appropriate return to football protocols.

"The Scottish Cup has also been given approval to resume, with all clubs in the competition given permission to participate subject to compliance with PCR testing requirements.

"Revised Scottish Cup fixture dates will be announced as soon as possible. The SPFL and SWF will also update on the respective league fixture schedules in due course."

Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Public Health and Sport, said: "We are aware of the importance of football, at all levels, to many people in Scotland and I'm happy that we have been able to work closely with the Scottish FA to allow the resumption of some further football activity – starting with SPFL Leagues One and Two, SWPL1 and clubs still in this season's Scottish Cup.

"This could only happen alongside enhanced measures to keep everyone safe, including mandatory weekly Covid PCR tests for all players and staff.

"We continue to discuss with the Scottish FA and other stakeholders to ensure football at all levels can resume as soon as it is safe to do so."

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Nicola Sturgeon pictured in March 2020
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