The government says they want more details from the HKFA before they agree to reopen venues. Meanwhile, the AFC has given the green light for R&F to participate in Asian competition.
Hong Kong Football Association chairman Pui Kwan-kay revealed to reporters on Monday that the organization had received two letters of interest over the weekend.
At the Premier League meeting last Tuesday, the 18th, the chairman stated that he would send letters to both the Home Affairs Bureau and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, requesting the reopening of football related venues. The letters would include the plans for the restart of the league which were approved by the clubs.
It is understood that the HAB has responded to the HKFA’s letter with a request for more details, including specific dates for testing, the name of the lab which would conduct the tests and the dates under which players and HKFA employees would be under quarantine. In addition, the HAB requested supplementary details on how the HKFA would enforce the home quarantine requirement for players and staff through transport and venue arrangements.
The home quarantine aspect of the restart became a key element of the proposal after the HKFA’s Board of Directors rejected the idea of renting hotel rooms in order to quarantine players and staff. Dr. Patrick Yung, chairman of the HKFA’s Medical Committee, then proposed home quarantine as a compromise – an idea which was later approved by both the board and the clubs.
Pui told reporters that the HKFA had sent a response to the government later in the day with details on health protocols, specific timelines and venue arrangements. The organization had also requested for the government to recommend a lab for hire to the HKFA
Chief Executive Carrie Lam expressed an openness towards reopening sports facilities on a “limited basis” last week. This, along with the Monday’s announcement that the number of new cases had fallen to single digits for the time in seven weeks, has spurred optimism that the season can be salvaged.
In the letter received on Friday, the HAB stated that they would be willing to discuss various options with the HKFA, however, they would prioritize the resumption of operations at LCSD venues first before discussing venue and scheduling arrangements.
Pui expressed optimism that the HAB and the HKFA could find an agreement on the proposal without the need for another meeting.
“(The HAB) will mainly follow the government’s virus prevention guidelines in formulating their decisions,” he said. “Of course, we hope that they can find a novel solution for us as they’ve already stated that they want to preserve as many jobs as possible over the course of the pandemic. We want them to remember that professional football is a job too.”
The chairman cited South Korea as an example of a country which is undergoing a higher surge in the number of cases but have allowed their football leagues to carry on. He stated that whilst he remained hopeful for a quick response from the HAB, it is unlikely that teams will return to training this Saturday, as planned.
If training is pushed back, the restart will be compressed into a two-week block between 26 September to 11 October. The HKFA and the clubs have agreed to a cut off date of 5 September to resume training.
AFC: R&F may qualify for Asia – but under this condition
The HKFA received one other letter of interest over the weekend – this time from the AFC.
In June 2019, the HKFA had asked the AFC to adjudicate whether R&F could qualify for Asia through Hong Kong’s domestic competitions. The club are owned by R&F Properties, the same company which owns Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F.
It was revealed on Monday that the AFC had given approval for R&F to qualify as a representative of Hong Kong – provided that Guangzhou R&F did not qualify for the same competition. This ruling is consistent with Section 9.13 of the AFC’s Entry Manual for AFC Club Competitions which deals with scenarios under which one club may be involved in the management of another participating club.
As Guangzhou R&F are a member of the Chinese Football Association, they would be given priority over R&F due to China’s superior member association ranking.
Hong Kong are currently ranked 11th in East Asia, which means that the Premier League champion will not qualify directly for next season’s Champions League. However, there have been rumours that North Korea’s ban from Asian competitions will extend past 2021, which – if true – would allow Hong Kong’s league champion to replace their North Korean counterparts in the group stage.
R&F head coach Yeung Ching-kwong thanked the AFC for providing clarity on the situation but refused to allow himself to think too far into the future.
“Because the decision was out of our hands, our goal was always to try and win the league, first and foremost, otherwise this would be a moot point,” said Yeung. “Of course, every player wants to play in the Champions League, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to remain laser focused on winning the league and the HKFA Cup Final.”
Guangzhou R&F currently sit 6th in the CSL’s Dalian group after seven matches. Should the club fail to finish in a top four position in the group, they will fall out of contention for an Asian berth.
On the other hand, R&F are atop the Premier League table on tiebreakers, despite being level on points with Lee Man and Kitchee. Fellow HKFA Cup finalists Eastern are point behind the three leaders while Southern are three points back.