Following months of bickering, the clubs and the HKFA have agreed on a home quarantine proposal with the target of restarting the season on 19 September. The two sides now await government approval.
The Hong Kong Football Association held a video conference with representatives of the six Premier League clubs on Tuesday afternoon to discuss plans for the restart of the season. After the three-hour meeting, HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-Kay announced that the clubs had agreed to the home quarantine proposal which was suggested by Dr. Patrick Young, chairman of the HKFA’s Medical Committee, and approved by the Board of Directors.
The agreement caps off a remarkable turnaround from just three weeks ago when clubs were divided on whether to continue the season at all. At the time, it appeared that the fate of the season hinged on whether the clubs or the HKFA were willing to foot the bill for the creation of a bubble in which players would be quarantined in hotels for the duration of the restart.
However, last Thursday, the board rejected this idea after the costs were estimated to be $10 million. Dr. Yung then proposed a compromise in which players would be quarantined at home and tested at least once a week. The new proposal, which will cost $3 million, is expected to be covered by the HKFA.
“A letter will be sent to the government and we hope that the relevant authorities can relax their restrictions,” said Pui. “(On Wednesday) I will meet with Ma Fung-kwok (LegCo member for the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication Constituency) and I will meet with more government official as soon as possible.”
The chairman reiterated the HKFA’s desire to use both Mong Kok Stadium and Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground as venues for the restart.
Restart timeline and protocols revealed
Due to the time sensitive nature of the restart, the clubs and the HKFA have agreed on a revised timeline with contingencies:
- 29 August: Both sides hope that government approval will be granted for the reopening of the Kitchee Training Centre and the Football Training Centre so that clubs can return to training on this date.
- 5 September: The clubs have agreed to push back the start of training camps if government approval is delayed. This means that the remaining fixtures could be played under a compressed, two week schedule. But, if clubs cannot return to training by 5 September, the HKFA will hold another emergency meeting. Should this meeting be held, Pui admits that the chances of the season’s cancellation will be “quite high.”
- 11 October: The season will end on this date, up 13 days from the previously proposed final day.
- 24 October: The 2020-21 season is tentatively scheduled to kick off on this date.
Although the start of the 2020-21 season had previously been pencilled in for late November, the revised timeline means that there will be less than a two week turnaround in between seasons. Pui stated that after considering the state of the clubs who had withdrawn, the HKFA decided to move up the start of the new season.
At the meeting, protocols regarding players who return positive tests were agreed upon. “If a player tests positive, of course they will be isolated,” the chairman explained. “The HKFA will also isolate anyone who had close contact with the player, as per Department of Health guidelines.
“If a club needs to isolate a number of players, the HKFA will allow the club to play with a minimum of 13 players. But, if the club cannot meet this threshold, then unfortunately the club will be withdrawn from the competition and all of the results of all of their matches will be annulled.”
Chairman refuses to concede defeat in player registration row
Earlier in the offseason, it was revealed that the HKFA had mistranslated several of FIFA’s guidelines regarding the registration of players whose contracts had expired prior to the end of the season. The organization had erroneously informed clubs that FIFA would allow players who were unemployed to sign and play for their new club once the season resumed.
Once it became clear that such players would not be eligible to play until next season, the HKFA claimed that FIFA had granted the organization an exemption to its rules. However, the clubs remained skeptical after reading the email exchange between the HKFA and FIFA and asked the HKFA to obtain a definitive answer as to whether free agents could play in the restart.
Last Thursday, news broke that FIFA had responded in the negative, declaring that only players whose contracts had expired prior to the close of Hong Kong’s winter transfer window on 29 January could be registered. However, FIFA had also stated that any player whose contract had been terminated as a result of issues related to the pandemic may still be allowed to play.
As a result of this confusion, Pui refuses to admit wrongdoing on the part of the HKFA.
“In regard to the player registration question, our secretariat has already informed the clubs that if a given player’s contract was terminated early due to the pandemic, that player can play immediately,” he argued. “For example, if Southern signed a player whose contract was bought out by Pegasus, he can play right away.”
The chairman did concede that players who contracts ended in May or beyond are unlikely to fall under FIFA’s pandemic related exception. In spite of these details, there remained an air of confusion over the rules which led to the following solution: “We’re asking clubs to submit a list of players that they want to register for the restart to the HKFA and then we’re going to turn those lists over to FIFA and ask them how to handle each case.”