Premier League clubs have reached a compromise to begin the 2020-21 season on 24 October, although some clubs will kick off at a later date. The HKFA hopes to welcome fans back to the stadiums and end the home quarantine requirement.
The Hong Kong Football Association held a video conference with the nine Premier League clubs on Tuesday morning to discuss the start date and arrangements for the 2020-21 season. HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay confirmed that although some clubs had raised concerns, the clubs ultimately reached a compromise to start the new season on 24 October.
At the meeting, it is believed that five clubs – Eastern, Kitchee, R&F, Lee Man and Southern – agreed that the new season should begin in two weeks time. Four clubs – Happy Valley, Rangers, Pegasus and Resources Capital – did not agree, with the latter two arguing most strongly against going ahead as planned.
Pegasus and Resources Capital cited delays in the issue of work visas for foreign players, which would restrict such players from entering Hong Kong, as their reasons to postpone the start of next season. Furthermore, travellers arriving into Hong Kong must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, creating an unequal playing field between clubs who already have a full compliment of foreigners and those who do not.
As a consequence of the delays, Pegasus requested to begin league play on 14 November, a full three weeks later than the targeted start date. Pui deemed the request as “reasonable” and stated that the clubs eventually reached a compromise in order to start the season as early as possible. “It’s possible that the first weeks of the season will be a mix of Sapling Cup group stage matches and select league matches,” he said. “We may wait until the beginning of November before we schedule a full slate of league matches.”
The chairman clarified that the clubs who specifically asked for a delay may not be asked to play league matches until November, but they may be asked to play Sapling Cup matches before November. These accommodations will require the approval of the HKFA’s Board of Directors.
HKFA hopes to enter Phase 2 of reopening
In its bid to restart the professional football season, the HKFA submitted a three-phase plan to the Home Affairs Bureau, laying a road map on how it plans to return to normal. The plan is currently in Phase 1 which means that all players must observe home quarantine and all matches are to be held behind closed doors.
Recently, Dr. Patrick Yung, chairman of the HKFA’s Medical Committee, has advised that it is safe to enter Phase 2, which would drop the home quarantine requirement, although players would still be tested prior to every match and temperature readings must continue to be submitted to each club’s health officer. Pui confirmed that he was considering whether to heed this advice, which would require approval from both the HAB and the Department of Health.
Crucially, Phase 2 would allow for the return of fans, as long as attendance is capped between 30 to 40 percent of stadium capacity. This would allow clubs to bring in crowds as normal, as 30 percent capacity at the 6,664 seat Mong Kok Stadium amounts to 2,000 seats – more than plenty for the majority of matches. The Board of Directors are expected to debate this idea on Thursday.
Only Phase 3 would entail a complete return to normal with no temperature checks, no quarantine and no caps on attendance.
The chairman stated that some of the teams who did not participate in the restart have already resumed training at venues which have been reopened by the government. He believed that stadiums which were not used during the restart, such as Tuen Mun Tang Shui Kin Sports Ground and Sham Shui Po Sports Ground, would be available for use in the new season.
HKFA seeks government subsidies
Several clubs have asked the HKFA to request government subsidies as a result of the pandemic’s effect on their finances. Pui confirmed today that the organization had already sent an application for funding on 30 September to subsidize the cost of venue rentals and broadcast fees.
“The clubs have taken a hit to their sponsorship income (because of the pandemic),” he relayed. “Various industries have applied for subsidies and we’re no different. As a professional sports league, our clubs face substantial salary expenses in the form of players and coaches.
“We hope that the HAB will consider our request and help us. Of course, approval will depend on whether our situation improves and the amount of aid.”