Premier League season may resume as soon as mid-September

Jockey Club HKFA Football Training Centre

Players will be asked to self-quarantine at home in the HKFA’s latest bid to restart the season. Pending government approval, training could resume as early as late August, with the first matches pegged for mid-September.

The HKFA’s Board of Directors have agreed on a plan to restart the Premier League season, pending an agreement from the government to reopen its venues. If approval is granted, training could resume as early as the 29th of this month, with the first matches tentatively scheduled for mid-September.

As part of the plan, players will be asked to self-quarantine at home upon the first day of training. This means that for the duration of the season, players may not leave home for any reason, except to attend training or to play in matches.

Although the HKFA had previously studied the possibility of quarantining players in hotel rooms in order to restart the season under a bubble, HKFA chariman Pui Kwan-kay told reporters that the plan was deemed to be unfeasible after the board debated the idea on Thursday afternoon.

“We studied possible arrangements that would involve a hotel quarantine in between matches but we estimated the costs to be more than $10 million,” he explained. “This is too much for the HKFA to bear and even more so considering the financial situations of the clubs, some of whom have asked us for support.”

The bubble concept had been suggested by Dr. Patrick Yung, chairman of the HKFA’s Medical Committee. As it became clear the financial burden of the plan would be too expensive, the board accepted Dr. Yung’s compromise solution of asking players to home quarantine.

In addition to the quarantine, players will be tested two days prior the start of training, once a week upon the resumption of training, and two days prior to every match. Compared to bubble concept, the cost is expected to be 70 per cent lower.

“The cost of a single test in Hong Kong is currently $1,000, so the total will work out to $3 million – which the HKFA considers manageable,” said the chairman. “Of course, there’s the possibility that we may use the services of a foreign lab and should that happen, the costs will be reduced.

“But the players must remain disciplined. Leave home and go straight to the training ground or the stadium. After they leave the training ground or the stadium, they must go straight home. Everybody has to accept responsibility.”

Players will be asked to self-quarantine at home – the same place where they’ve spent most of the last five months. (Credit: Cable TV)

Pui reiterated that the biggest hurdle to restarting football is getting the government on board. He revealed that he has written numerous reports to the Home Affairs Bureau in order to acquire their help in persuading the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to reopen venues. However, on Thursday, the government extended work from home arrangements for civil servants until 23 August, meaning that venues cannot be reopened prior to that date.

“We are concerned about players who are currently out of contract,” claimed the chairman. “The Premier League is a professional league and players have to work. An indefinite suspension of the season is not good for anyone, much less the players who are waiting for the start of next season.

“I believe that we can carry out all training sessions out of the Kitchee Training Centre and the Tseung Kwan O Football Training Centre, starting on 29 August. I hope that the LCSD will then allow us to use Mong Kok Stadium and Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground for closed door matches. Lastly, we will seek employment subsidies from the government, much like how they bailed out Cathay Pacific.

“Right now, the chances of us achieving all this is 50/50.”

First batch of FIFA grant to be used to cover losses

Last week, Pui dismissed the possibility of using FIFA’s solidary grant to pay for the restart. Under FIFA’s COID-19 Relief Plan, each member association is set to receive $1 million USD ($7.75 million HKD) in order to alleviate the financial burden of the pandemic. The funding will be split into two batches – or Tranches – of $500,000 USD ($3.875 million HKD).

The chairman attempted to clarify his remarks today, stating that the first batch will be used to cover losses incurred by the HKFA over the past year, while the second batch will be used to reimburse the HKFA for cost of the restart.

The HKFA have pledged to cover the cost of testing, but only up to $3 million. (Credit: Pixabay)

“Because of the pandemic, our revenue streams have taken a bath as we’ve not been able to collect income from ticket sales or coaching license fees,” he stated. “It is, therefore, necessarily to fill in the gaps with FIFA’s assistance.”

The chairman stated that he expects the second batch of funding to be sufficient in covering the cost of testing but hoped that clubs could agree to cover overruns, should the total cost exceed $3 million.

Potential schedule conflict for Kitchee

Although the HKFA did not have a set date for the first match post-restart, Pui stated that the goal was to conclude the season on 24 October so that the 2020-21 season could begin in late November. Due to the AFC’s decision to postpone all remaining World Cup qualifying matches for the rest of the year, the Premier League season will be able to resume without a need to break for FIFA windows.

However, the AFC had announced earlier that AFC Cup matches for Group I would take place between 20 October to 4 November in a centralized venue. As Hong Kong’s representative in the competition, this overlap presents a problem for Kitchee, who may be required to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to departing for the centralized venue.

In addition, the Sapling Cup final between Kitchee and Southern could be delayed into November if not played prior to Kitchee’s departure.

While the AFC has not officially named a centralized venue, they have recently postponed the Group’s playoff match to 16 October, four days prior to the start of the group stage. The venue for the match has been named as Kaohsiung’s National Stadium, seemingly indicating that Taiwan will be the host nation for the group. It remains entirely possible that the AFC Cup could be further delayed, however, with the creation of bubbles for each group, it is more likely than not that the matches will take place on time.

The HKFA has scheduled a meeting with the clubs set for Tuesday in order to finalize the plans.

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