Scotland’s top-flight teams will pause for a winter break after playing their Boxing Day fixtures.
The decision was taken by the Scottish Professional Football League board on Wednesday following more than 24 hours of discussions in the wake of new restrictions on live events in Scotland.
Ten of the 12 cinch Premiership clubs were in favour of starting the winter break immediately – following rearranged three fixtures later on Wednesday – after the Scottish Government limited crowds at outdoor events to 500 for a period up to three weeks.
However, Boxing Day games will go ahead as planned in front of limited crowds. Fixtures from December 29 and January 2-3 have been put back to January 17-18 and February 1-2 respectively.
The SPFL has today announced that the 29th December and 2nd/3rd January cinch Premiership fixture rounds have been postponed to 17th/18th January and 1st/2nd February.
cinch Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs have elected not to postpone fixtures.
Full details 👇
— SPFL (@spfl) December 22, 2021
Premiership clubs were initially due to begin their winter break after the Edinburgh derby on January 3 and then return with Scottish Cup action around the weekend of January 22-23.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “We have advised our clubs that any postponements increase the risk of further disruption to an already highly congested fixture calendar.
“There are mixed views amongst cinch Premiership clubs about what to do for the best.
“However, a majority favour the postponement of fixtures to give a chance for games scheduled to be played over the festive period to be played in front of fans, once the three-week period of restrictions comes to an end.
“We would like to place on record our sincere thanks to Sky Sports and Police Scotland for their flexibility in accommodating these changes and to all cinch SPFL clubs for their clear, positive and constructive feedback as we work together to get through the challenges posed by Covid-19.”
An SPFL statement added: “Cinch Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs were consulted as to whether they wished to postpone fixtures in their divisions, but they did not wish to do so.”
None of the lower divisions have a winter break.
The Premiership is now due to resume on Monday, January 17 when Celtic host Hibernian – the Leith club face Cove Rangers in the cup three days later. The other five games postponed from December 29 will be staged 24 hours later.
Five of the New Year fixtures will take place on Tuesday, February 1, including Edinburgh and Dundee derbies, and Celtic will host Rangers the following evening.
Celtic, Hibs and Motherwell announced on Tuesday that they had requested the winter break was brought forward ahead of the Boxing Day games, before Hearts, St Johnstone, Dundee, Dundee United, Livingston and Aberdeen confirmed the same stance on Wednesday.
St Mirren had previously asked the SPFL to postpone their games against Celtic and Rangers this week following a Covid outbreak among their players and staff.
Rangers and Ross County were believed to want the games to go ahead as scheduled.
🆕 Club Update
📝 We are in favour of bringing the winter break forward to give us all time to evaluate and alleviate any potential issues relating to playing once again in front of supporters.
— Heart of Midlothian FC (@JamTarts) December 22, 2021
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson had earlier revealed the third, ultimately selected option had been floated ahead of the meeting.
“For me, football is about the fans,” Neilson said. “We have to get them in as much as we can.
“In relation to this weekend, the decision has come so quickly. I understand the dynamics of trying to find dates to fit the games in, so it’s a big decision to make. The sooner we get a decision the better, so we can plan.
“(If) the games go ahead on Boxing Day and then we bring the winter break forward, I think that would probably be the preference for most teams because it allows us to get the fans back in for two of the games.”
The Club can confirm that it is in favour of bringing forward the cinch Premiership winter break and we have requested the SPFL to do so and reschedule any fixtures effected by yesterday's statement.#UnitedTogether 🟠⚫️https://t.co/BZiu27kdik
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) December 22, 2021
Although clubs were asked to outline their viewpoint ahead of the meeting, the decision was ultimately taken by board members.
The SPFL board is made up of Doncaster, chairman Murdoch MacLennan and independent non-executive director Karyn McCluskey plus representatives from clubs.
This season’s representatives are Hibernian chairman Ron Gordon, James MacDonald of Ross County, Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson, Les Gray of Hamilton, Dunfermline’s Ross McArthur and Alastair Donald of Forfar.