Local football will resume next weekend with the final round of the Sapling Cup group stage. Matches will be played behind closed doors for the time being. Each matchday will consist of a doubleheader at one of four designated venues.
83 days after Eastern bested Lee Man on 29 November, the domestic season is slated to resume. The Hong Kong Football Association announced on Friday that the final round of Sapling Cup group stage matches would be scheduled for next weekend, with the first matches taking place on 20 February.
In their press release, the HKFA stated that matches would be played closed doors in order to “ensure the implement of hygiene measures and social distancing.” The four venues to be used for the restart – Mong Kok Stadium, Hong Kong Stadium, Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground and Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground – are the same venues which were used during the restart of the 2019-20 season.
According to sources, the schedule for the restart was not included in Friday afternoon’s announcement because the HKFA are still awaiting details regarding venue availability. However, the HKFA noted that Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground would not be available until 7 March due to “urgent repair work.”
According to the jogging timetable posted on the Leisure and Cultural Services Department website, the ground has been booked on the 7th, 13th, 14th, 20th and 21st of March for football. Details for Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground, the other public jogging venue, have not been updated as of press time.
Premier League clubs resumed training on 3 February after the government reacted to the fourth wave of the pandemic by shutting down its sports facilities on 3 December. The number of cases has steadily declined in recent weeks, with less than 40 new cases registered per day since 31 January. In response, the government announced on Wednesday that social gatherings limits would be increased to four people after the Lunar New Year break.
As a condition of the resumption of training, clubs agreed to abide by strict virus prevention measures such as ramping up spot checks and testing, as well as private transport and home quarantine measures for the players. All players must use the Leave Home Safe app to record their whereabouts. Teams who violate the rules will be subject to fines.
Cup competitions cut due to race against time
The HKFA also confirmed in their press release that the Senior Shield, FA Cup and Reserve League would be cancelled for the season as there is not “sufficient time” in the remaining months of the season. As the remainder of the Second Round of World Cup Qualifying is set to be delayed until the May/June double window, there is a desire on the part of the HKFA to complete the matches before then, in case a quarantine period remains in effect for arrivals into Hong Kong.
HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay confirmed after last Thursday’s Board meeting that the clubs and the Board had agreed to cancel the two cup competitions which had not yet begun. Although the total of matches played by each team this season will fall below the AFC’s threshold of 27, Pui stated that the HKFA would submit a report to the confederation expects that there will be no punishment due to the pandemic.
In order to ensure that all matches can be squeezed into a three and a half month time frame, it is expected that the HKFA will schedule matchdays as doubleheaders, a change from the restart of the 2019-20 season when only one match was played per day.