Neither Pui Kwan-kay nor Kenneth Kwok believe that football will return in the near future.
As Hong Kong continues to battle the fourth wave of the pandemic, key stakeholders within the football community have expressed doubt that the season can be resumed in short order.
After the government reduced the limit on social gatherings to two people on 30 November, the HKFA shut down the Football Training Centre and postponed all women’s, Reserve League and lower division matches which were scheduled until 16 December. The organization later announced that it would postpone the FA Cup group stage matches set for this past weekend due to ongoing negotiations with the government over an exemption to the limit on gatherings.
Beginning on 2 December, teams have halted all in-person training and have asked players to home quarantine in anticipation of government approval to continue the season under the same return to play protocols which facilitated the restart of the 2019-20 season. However, since last week, the government have only tightened restrictions further, leading to greater uncertainty over a return to play for the current season.
“It’s not looking good for this weekend,” admitted Pui Kwan-kay, chairman of the HKFA. “We’re still awaiting a response from the Department of Health.” The chairman argued that the home quarantine plan was successful during the restart as no players or staff tested positive over the month-long period. He stated that the HKFA had submitted the same protocol used during the restart in their proposal to the government.
Nevertheless, an admission that matches will continue to be postponed is out of character for Pui who usually attempts to present best case scenarios in his comments to the media. The chairman had even opined last week that teams would only require two to three days of training before the season was resumed. But, in his latest remarks on Tuesday, Pui conceded that the longer the layoff, the longer the period of time that would be needed for teams to train ahead of their first match.
The chairman did rule out the possibility that fans would be allowed back into stadiums for the time being. Last week, the Board of Directors approved up to $400,000 in funds to cover the broadcast of all remaining matches in the month of December.
Although Pui expressed a more cautious outlook over a timeline for the return of football, Pegasus head coach Kenneth Kwok was more bullish.
“The pandemic has lasted nearly a year and we’ve seen from past experience that the government’s approach is to shut everything down, and then slowly return things to normal. This is why I don’t think the Premier League will be back until 2021,” he said. The coach stated that the FTC must be reopened first and foremost so that teams can resume training for at least a week. Afterwards, if the Leisure and Cultural Services Department agrees to reopen stadiums, he believes that teams will be made to play two matches a week in order to make up for lost time.
The season thus far has been frustrating for Kwok as he missed the beginning of the season in order to complete his AFC Pro License examinations in China. He was unable to conduct training sessions in person with his players until 23 November due to the mandatory quarantine after travelling back from his exams.
The coach admitted that his primary focus during the layoff is to maintain his players’ fitness levels. Kwok revealed that Pegasus players have been asked to conduct strength and aerobic exercises at home, but he remains concerned about their sharpness as they spend ever increasing amounts of time without a ball at their feet. The coach stated that if measures to combat the virus continue to be tightened, he would have no choice but to lead training sessions through virtual means.