Clubs may return to training as early as Friday after the Home Affairs Bureau approved the reopening of four training grounds.
Facing a self-imposed deadline for clubs to return to training by this Saturday, the Hong Kong Football Association waited with bated breath for the government to green light the first phase of its restart plan. If approval was not given in time, an emergency meeting would have been convened, with the likely outcome being the season’s cancellation.
The HKFA can breathe a little more easily after Wednesday’s announcement that four venues had been reopened by the Home Affairs Bureau. Although sports grounds are not currently open to the public for football, the HAB nevertheless granted the six remaining clubs exclusive use of two public venues, as well as approving the reopening of two private venues.
According to the HKFA’s statement on Wednesday afternoon, the six clubs will be allocated to the following venues:
- Kitchee Training Centre – Kitchee
- Football Training Centre – Lee Man and Eastern
- Kowloon Bay Sports Ground – Happy Valley and R&F
- Aberdeen Sports Ground – Southern
The Secretary for Home Affairs, Caspar Tsui, confirmed earlier in the day that the government had been in discussions with the HKFA about the creation of a bubble, which would allow for athletes to resume training and eventually compete against each other. Crucial to this was frequent testing and for athletes to stay at home unless they were travelling to training.
After Wednesday’s announcement, HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay relayed to the media that players would begin to be tested on Thursday morning. As results usually require a 24-hour turnaround, and because players may not return to training without a negative test, clubs can not resume training exercises until Friday afternoon at the earliest.
Players will undergo a deep-throat saliva test for COVID-19, which differs from the type of tests administered by the Department of Health. All players will be tested at least once a week after they return to training and between 48 to 72 hours prior to every match.
Each club will be required to appoint a health officer whose job shall be to collect information on each player’s condition. Players will be required to report their body temperature before going to bed and after they wake up, and contact their health officer immediately if their temperature exceeds 37.5º C.
HKFA chief remains bullish on 19 September restart
Regarding the four venues which were reopened, Pui argued that the venues were chosen because they were four of the most commonly used training grounds by the clubs.
“I hope that the return to training will go smoothly and we can restart the season on the 19th, as scheduled, and play out the remaining 17 matches,” he remarked. “If a player should test positive, both the player and those who have come in close contact with him will be quarantined. If a team should suffer a massive outbreak, then we’ve already agreed that the club will be forced to withdraw from the season.”
At the Premier League meeting held on 18 August, it was agreed that if clubs must have, at minimum, 13 players at their disposal in order to play.
In addition, unnamed club officials confirmed that each club must submit their rosters to the HKFA prior to the restart. The rosters cannot be changed or altered after they have been submitted, and only the players named on the roster will be permitted entry inside training grounds. Simultaneously, clubs must sign statements certifying that each player will dutifully observe their home quarantine requirements.
Pui reiterated that matches would remain closed door for the time being until further notice from the government. The HKFA is seeking to use Mong Kok Stadium, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground and Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground for the restart.