The Premier League season will resume as early as 15 August and finish no later than 7 November.
After more than two months of stops and starts, twists and turns, there is, at last, clarity as to when football will return.
Well, sort of. Here’s what we know:
League to resume as early as 15 August
The Hong Kong Football Association’s board of directors met today to discuss plans for the resumption of the season, the start of next season and various other issues. Many of the proposals which were leaked prior to the meeting were finalized and approved by the board.
Of interest to most is that the Premier League will tentatively resume on 15 August. However, chariman Pui Kwan-kay cautioned, “It is also possible, because of the pandemic, that we will not resume until late August or September.” He also noted that the season will end by 7 November, irrespective of the start date of the season.
As for the three cup finals, Pui said that they would be played in the months of September and October.
The 2020-21 season will commence in late November, following a three week break after the current season ends. Although several clubs had suggested to the HKFA that next season be aligned with the calendar year, the board determined that it could not move forward with this until 2023 at the earliest. The chairman hoped that shortened break in between seasons would “…provide continuity and minimize the impact on clubs and players.”
Lee Man furious over registration rules
Due to the special circumstances regarding this season, FIFA issued a document which states the following:
The document also encouraged players whose contracts will expire prior to the end of their season to work together with their clubs to find solutions. However, with many players on one year contracts, it would be near impossible to ask all of them to sign short term deals until November.
In light of this, the HKFA will suspend the official start of the summer window until the end of the 2019-20 season. However, the organization also announced today that due to exceptional circumstances, any player who was signed as a free agent during the winter window or during the summer months may play in any competition without restriction. This ruling means that players who have represented other clubs in a cup competition would be eligible to represent a different club in their cup final.
The only exception to this ruling would be if a player were to face his former club in one of the three cup finals.
Naturally, Lee Man head coach Chan Hiu-ming was irked by this news as his club’s Senior Shield opponents, Eastern, will now be permitted to use Sandro and Lucas Silva in the Final.
“’No player may represent more than one club in a cup competition’ – these are the rules,” said an irate Chan. “It’s the same thing with the foreign quota. You can’t just change them at will.”
“If a player is registered with his third different club this season, and that club is in the final, is that player eligible? According to the regulations, he should be, no?
“And as for such player’s eligibility for the second half of the league, there is still a slight hint of unfairness because it’s as if there’s a second mid-season transfer window.”
Lee Man executive manager Chow Man added, “When (Eastern) signed these players, it was with the understanding that they were ineligible. How can (the HKFA) use the pandemic to change these rules?
“This is completely unfair to us. We intend to contact the HKFA for an explanation and to express our thoughts.”
When reached, Eastern head coach Lee Chi-kin declined to respond to directly to either Chan or Chow. He conceded that the arrangement is not ideal but ultimately defended the HKFA’s ruling.
“If, for a certain club, most player contracts end in May or June, then there’s a chance that they’ll have an insufficient number of players,” he said. “This regulation helps avoid that.”
League structure to be determined
Another factor which will influence the official resumption of the season is the number of clubs who will participate. Pui stated today that at least six clubs will continue when the season resumes, including Happy Valley who confirmed their participation on Thursday night. He also confirmed that Pegasus have submitted notice of their withdrawal, although no other club has done so at this time.
It is believed that the three clubs who have not confirmed their participation are Rangers, Tai Po and Yuen Long. Rangers are likely to withdraw if they do not receive government subsidies. Tai Po are currently in arrears although they have implied that they will continue. Yuen Long, however, remain a mystery.
Any club who wishes to withdraw must apply in writing to the HFKA by 30 April. All league matches involving withdrawn clubs will be annulled.
In addition, the HKFA announced that the lower divisions, the women’s league, and the various youth leagues will be cancelled and that there will be no promotion and relegation this season. The chairman did offer a lifeline to clubs hoping to join the Premier League, saying that if an existing Premier League club declined to participate in the 2020-21 season, the HKFA would invite a First Division club to take their place, provided that the club submits a promotion application by May.
- Pui announced today that the government has allocated $40,000 to $50,000 in subsidies to each club to cover part of their expenses in February and March. The HKFA will continue to seek additional funding from the government.
- FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani said in multiple interviews that he doubts there will be any international matches for the rest of the year. Montagliani, who is the head of a working group tasked with handling COVID-19 related solutions, told the Associated Press, “I think that might be a bit of a challenge, not so much because of just the health issues around the world and the various degrees of preparedness, but also committing to international travel as soon as we come back,” he said. “I think that domestic football is a priority. September is still in the books, but I would garner to say that I’m not sure it’s there on solid ground the way things are trending right now.” Montagliani later added, “But on the balance of probabilities, having us playing in September is not very high, even sitting here in April.”
- On the subject of international football, CEO Paul Woodland confirmed that his contract, as well as that of men’s national team head coach Mixu Paatelainen, were automatically extended until the end of June. He told the media today that the HKFA will meet with the government before June to discuss funding issues but in the meantime, Paatelainen will continue to send video clips to players and coach them on how to improve.
- Woodland also pointed out that if the Football Training Centre could be reopened in June, national team players, as well as some out of contract players, would be allowed to train there ahead of the season restart.