The HKFA will decide by 1 August whether the season can continue after the recent spike in new coronavirus cases has forced clubs to cease full team training.
Hong Kong Football Association chairman Pui Kwan-kay admitted on Wednesday that the remainder of the Premier League season could be cancelled in light of the third wave of infections.
Last week, the government rolled back the limit on gatherings to four people while the Leisure and Cultural Services Department closed all of its venues which had been reopened. The HKFA followed suit by shutting down the Football Training Centre which is currently being used by three clubs for preseason training. Kitchee, who have their own training ground, also ceased operations and the club are said to be awaiting further guidance from the government.
The HKFA had previously asked clubs for their input on various counter measures proposed by the organization. “We’ve asked the clubs ‘how many weeks of training do you need before you’re ready to resume the season?’” Pui stated. “We’ve also providing them with different deadlines as to when certain decisions will be made,”
According to one report, the first deadline was to wait until Wednesday to see if the FTC could be reopened for full team training. If this could not be achieved, the restart would be pushed back to 1 September and the season would end on either the 27th or the 28th.
The next deadline is to wait and see whether LCSD venues or the FTC can be reopened by 1 August. Even if LCSD venues are reopened, it remains possible that the government may designate only one stadium for all matches – as was the case in March. However, if only the FTC is reopened, the restart could depend on the clubs’ willingness to play matches at the FTC – as was the case in February.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, if teams could not resume training by 1 August or were unwilling to play closed door matches, then the remainder of the 2019-20 season would be cancelled.
“The third wave is quite severe, and the situation is worse than it was before,” the chairman said. “If the season is cancelled, it will affect qualification for next season’s Asian competitions even though there’s no guarantee that this year’s competitions will be completed.”
The AFC has given member associations leeway to determine which of their clubs will qualify for Asian berths in 2021. If the HKFA wishes to deviate from awarding its berths through normal procedures, it must apply to the AFC in writing and meet the relevant requirements.
Clubs insist on cautious approach
As a consequence of the closure of facilities, clubs have switched to conducting training sessions through virtual conferencing.
“Regardless of whether the venues are reopened, starting tomorrow, we’ll be moving all of our conditioning sessions online to try and keep our players fit,” said Happy Valley head coach Pau Ka-yiu. “We can only hope that this wave of infections is contained within the next two weeks otherwise, players may struggle with their fitness and that can lead to injuries.”
Likewise, Lee Man head coach Chan Hiu-ming urged the HKFA to consider the well being of the players when making decisions.
“If they still intend to restart the season at the end of August, they have to give us enough lead time to build up our players’ fitness,” he said. “If they don’t we’re going to have the same situtation the European leagues are having where a lot of players got injured soon after their seasons resumed.
“Let’s say we can’t restart on time and let’s say that we can’t return to training until mid-August – well, in that case, you’re not giving us enough time to prepare. If that’s the case, then don’t force the season to continue.”
Chan stressed that his club’s position is for the season to continue, if possible. However, the coach conceded that given how the once in a century pandemic had affected other sporting events around the world, he could not rule out its termination.
“Nobody could’ve predicted that Wimbledon and the Olympics would be cancelled in the former’s case or postponed in the latter’s case, yet here we are.”
Hong Kong Football Awards cancelled
For the first time in 42 years, there will be no Hong Kong Football Awards ceremony in 2020. When asked, Pui did not confirm the news but conceded that it was likely.
“(The board) are leaning towards not holding it this year because it’s difficult to see how we could organize it in the short term,” the chairman said. “As you know, in recent years, the ceremony has become a big event where we’ve invited many celebrities and athletes from other sports to present the awards.”
It is understood that the board had begun discussions on contingency plans as early as February when the season was suspended for the first time. The HKFA had considered reducing the number of attendees or changing the format from a banquet where dinner would be served to a ceremony without food. But due to restrictions on gatherings, as well as questions over whether it would be fair to hand out awards in a season in which four clubs had withdrawn, the board determined that there were too many uncertainties to proceed with the event.
The Hong Kong Football Awards were the brainchild of former pundit Ho Kam-kong and was co-presented for the first time in 1978 by RTHK and the Hong Kong Chinese Footballers Association. The event had been held continuously ever since, including during the height of the SARS epidemic in 2003, when the event was held outdoors.