The Unite the union Champions’ Cup 2021 has regrettably been called off in the wake of scheduling issues which have left Unite the union, the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association with no choice but to inform the clubs of this decision.
All three bodies had planned to host an expanded four team version of the Unite the union Champions Cup featuring two teams from the League of Ireland and two from the Irish League but the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to this cancellation after the postponement of the 2021 semi-final fixtures late last year.
Cross-border initiatives to celebrate diversity, promote equality and build community will continue, however, with Unite the union providing funding of £50,000 which goes directly into communities and schools in the catchment areas of the teams involved. Talks will now commence on the future of the competition itself and other initiatives.
Unite the union deputy Regional Secretary Davy Thompson said: “Whilst we are disappointed that the tournament couldn’t be concluded, we do acknowledge the pressures on clubs, players and staff coupled with the split seasons and the difficulties this brings when trying to organise a competition of this nature.
"Covid is something that no one could have envisaged as we entered into this project and has played a significant part in this outcome. We will continue to work closely with both associations and the clubs to advance our community activities which were at the core of this competition.”
Albert Hewitt, Unite Community Coordinator, highlighted the successes of the community liaison with clubs in Northern Ireland.
He said: “We have set up a no ties foodbank and formal collections for food banks on match days involving Unite Community members in partnership with the leading teams. Players from both Linfield and Coleraine are visiting schools in deprived areas as part of a Unite-sponsored computer skills education programme. The work between ourselves and the clubs are having a real impact – they will continue and we hope to expand them in the coming period.”
Unite Community coordinator in the Republic Rhona McCord highlighted the successes of the initiative with League of Ireland clubs.
“We have engaged with Dundalk FC, Shamrock Rovers and St Patricks Athletic sponsoring football gear and training for young football players at Mosney Direct Provision Centre; sponsoring the Sport Against Racism football team Hijabs & Hat tricks and providing wheelchairs for the Irish Wheelchair Association basketball team in Dundalk. We also worked with clubs to launch a STEM education resource for schools in Tallaght, Clondalkin, Ballyfermot and Inchicore.”
League of Ireland Director Mark Scanlon added: “Following on from the COVID-19 enforced postponement of the semi-finals late last year it has proven difficult to find alternative dates for the semi-finals and final of the Unite the union Champions Cup 2021. Together with Unite the Union and the IFA we have had to make the difficult decision to phase out the tournament.
"On behalf of the FAI and our League of Ireland clubs, I want to thank Unite the union and my colleagues at the IFA for their ongoing support and consideration in reaching this decision. The commitment of Unite the union to football and their incredible work in the community with our clubs has been inspirational and we thank them for that. We will now work with all stakeholders on the off-the-field initiatives that have already proven so popular.”
Irish FA President, Conrad Kirkwood, said: “We will continue to work with our partners on this and other ventures that place an important value on community as central to our game.”