HOW do you maintain hope in a desperate situation without creating unrealistic expectations? The greatest moral conundrum of these times is one that has been troubling leaders and governing bodies all around the world for a while now.

Rod Petrie is walking that tightrope, too. The Scottish FA president could never be mistaken for a happy-go-lucky idealist but, as he tries to lay out a framework for football’s eventual return, he is shrewd enough to appreciate there must also be a reef of optimism for people to cling to amid the seemingly endless waves of pragmatic caution.

When exactly the remaining Scottish Cup fixtures and the national team’s Euro 2020 play-off with Israel will take place, Petrie cannot say. Perhaps not even this year. Like everyone else, the former Hibernian chairman will be guided in that process by scientists, medics and government officials.

But, when the time is right, sport will return. And it will bring, in Petrie’s words, “the joy, the impact, the entertainment and the engagement” as before.

“It is a very delicate balance,” he conceded. “You can’t expect to switch on the lights and pick up from where we left off. Players have had a significant period with very little in terms of conditioning other than what they’ve done themselves. So we’ve got this whole lead-up in terms of how to put ourselves in a position to play games when it’s safe to do so amid the restrictions that are there.


“We understand the joy, the impact, and the entertainment and the engagement that playing games provides for supporters up and down the country. We also understand the importance of what football clubs do within their communities in terms of help, well-being and for young people working in schools.

“Football can be a great ambassador for a healthy lifestyle and engage with the community at a whole host of levels. So it would be good for football to be up and running the way we remember it.

“We have to be realistic that the way we remember it won’t happen any time soon. But that can be our aim and our ambition and we can identify the stepping stones that we need to hit to get there.

“That is a very constructive thing we can do at the moment without giving false hope that it will happen before it is safe and before it is the right time.”

The next step for Petrie will be a virtual conference with Sports Minister Joe Fitzpatrick on Tuesday.

“We want him to understand what we are doing and equally it would be good to hear from him what the latest view from the government is in terms of the emergency footing that NHS Scotland is on.

“That is currently in place until June 10 and it would be good to know whether it is going to continue and we will all still be facing the Stay at Home message. Until we get to that point where the NHS is not on emergency footing then we can’t expect our training centres to reopen and our programme of work leading to competitive football being played.


“There are experts who say that is about a seven-week lead-in period by the time you get the training centre open. Can you create a safe environment for coaching staff and others and then through to training, fitness, playing bounce games and getting up to a competitive footing?”

There are financial considerations, too. There is only so long clubs can survive without money coming in through the turnstiles, although Petrie revealed the Scottish FA would support them as much as possible.

The governing body, though, has also been weakened itself by the postponement of three Scottish Cup ties and the Israel game all of which would have played out in front of bumper Hampden crowds.

“Our ambition and objective is to ensure that we can get all clubs through the pandemic,” added Petrie.

“That’s why it was important to start releasing money to clubs. In the last few days, the SFA has made an advance payment to clubs, money that would have come to them later in the year. The SPFL have now got to a point where prize money has been distributed in the Championship, League One and League Two.

“A decision on the Premiership hasn’t been made yet but we know when we do get back playing there will be money out of the next television deal. Clubs have been sensible in trying to limit their outgoings and we have to try and help them.


“The SFA is like every other business and had to look at its own position. We took the view, regrettably, to furlough staff and to ask those who were working from home also to take a pay cut. I’m very grateful to everybody within the Scottish FA who has done that and made their contribution to Scottish football. Yes, we’ve lost revenue but these games will come at some point.

“We are very keen to understand the hardship that our clubs are in during this and ways in which we can contribute. That is why we have taken the measures we have to curtail our own outgoings; to try and preserve the monies we have as they’ve got to be there to help clubs at the right time.”