The HKFA and clubs make their positions known about the situation as FIFA extends the season indefinitely. One group that hasn’t been consulted are the players.
An emergency meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon to determine the future of the Premier League season will be called off by the Hong Kong Football Association. It is believed that it will not be rescheduled this week.
In place of the meeting, the HKFA will send out a questionnaire to clubs and meet with the Medical Committee this week to gather as many opinions on how to move forward as possible. A preliminary decision is expected to come as early as the middle of next week.
This is the latest in a series of twists and turns which have further clouded an already uncertain future for the Premier League season.
Last Thursday, eight clubs voted in favour of a proposal to the HKFA to terminate the rest of this season and return in January 2021, beginning with the three cup finals and a mini-Asian qualification tournament.
However, on Friday, HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay rebutted the clubs, telling multiple outlets that the organization was strongly opposed to cancelling matches and would instead seek to reschedule them for September or October.
On Saturday, the HKFA released a statement declaring that the season would be postponed until further notice and that the Football Training Centre, used by multiple clubs, would closed temporarily.
Finally, on Monday, league leaders R&F broke their silence over the situation. The club were absent from Thursday’s internal meeting of clubs and, along with Happy Valley, were the only clubs not to approve or disapprove of cutting the season short.
Hui Sai-geng, R&F’s Premier League commissioner, said that the club opposed an immediate termination to the season, preferring to adjourn until September instead. He confirmed that he had written to the HKFA to express his club’s position and that R&F had declined to attend Thursday’s meeting due to the government’s restrictions on gatherings of four or more.
In response to inquires, Happy Valley director Poon Man-tik stated that club management were still deliberating over their position and had not arrived at a conclusion.
Lee Chi-kin: “I believe a consensus can be reached”
Although Eastern’s representative at the meeting, Lee Chi-kin, had voted to go with the majority’s proposal, the club have since contacted their fellow clubs to indicate that they have changed their position. After internal discussions, it is believed that the club now favours the first proposal put forth during the meeting which is to postpone all matches until September.
If the pandemic does not improve by August, Eastern maintain that all remaining league matches should be cancelled and the three cup finals should be rescheduled for early 2021. The club also agree with the idea that the start of next season should align with the calendar year.
Eastern reasoned that their about-face is aimed at balancing the interests of everyone within the football community. They claim that if there is too long of a gap without football, sponsors will lose interest and plunge local football into an “ice age”.
When reached for comment, Lee was optimistic that more clubs will join Eastern in calling for a postponement, rather than termination. “I believe that a consensus can be reached,” he stated. “This is the obvious solution so I hope that (all clubs) can stop dragging their feet much longer.
“Now that we’ve arrived at this point, let’s make a decision and not create any additional risks.
“If next season starts in 2021, that is too long because most player run into difficulty once their contracts end in May or June. Hopefully, in two months, the pandemic will mostly be controlled, and we can get back to football.”
FIFA to give member associations greater flexibility over end of seasons
On Monday, a report by the Athletic stated that FIFA is expected to announce an indefinite extension to the 2019–20 season within “the next 48 hours.” The governing body will also alter the dates of the summer window.
Confirmation of these plans will allow each football association to determine when campaigns can finish and give clubs the ability to extend players whose contracts end before the start of the summer window.
Both decisions could give the HKFA the flexibility to extend the current season into autumn and allay the fears of clubs who may stand to lose large portions of their squads if the season cannot be concluded by 31 May.
Anonymous player: “If they don’t look after us, I believe a significant number of players will retire”
With no matches on the horizon, and no end to the pandemic in sight, one group who look to be the hardest hit are the players.
Rangers director Philip Lee announced last week that the club had bought out the contracts of their foreign players in order to allow them to return home immediately. He also pledged to continue payment to local players but floated the possibility that his club may choose to sit out the remainder of the 2019–20 season, even if matches returned in the autumn.
On Friday, news emerged that Pegasus had told its players to stop working out. On Monday morning, players were given two difficult choices: Either receive their normal salary and mutually terminate their contract in May or agree to renegotiate their salary at a lower rate and remain on contract.
When reached for comment, Pegasus head coach Peter Man confirmed the news. He explained, “Because of the current pandemic, we are working closely with players to discuss solutions. We hope we can reach a consensus (with them) to solve existing problems.”
Over the weekend, Apple Daily spoke with several players who were concerned that if the season were cut short, it would result in players going unpaid for up to six months. The comments were made after the clubs announced their desire to terminate the season but before the cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting.
Few players in Hong Kong are on multiyear contracts. This means that although most players can move freely every summer, it also equals a lack of job security. Given that most player contracts end on 31 May, and that an altered start date for next season would mean that training camps would not open until early December, this would result in roughly a half year without football.
Such a large gap in time may be too much to bear for some players.
“Hong Kong players make limited money and have little in the way of savings,” said one player who preferred to remain anonymous. “For players at the end of their contract, there’s no chance that some of them can wait a half year to sign their next contract because they have families to feed and mortgages to pay.”
Additionally, the player pointed out that if there was no football for a half year, players would not be able to supplement their income with part time coaching gigs.
“If we’re backed into a corner, the only thing we can do is to find another job,” he continued. “And if we switch professions, it’s hard to go back to being a professional footballer.
“If the clubs insist on cutting the season and they don’t take care of us, I believe that a significant number of players will retire.”