The HKFA’s chairman claims that until venues are reopened, there cannot be a restart. Internally, the organization continues to weigh the costs and benefits of resuming the season under a bubble.
On Friday, HKFA Chairman Pui Kwan-kay accepted an interview with Bastille Post after a week in which no action was taken on the potential restart of the Premier League season. Addressing concerns over the lack of news, Pui stated that the government holds all the cards with regard to the return of football and as such, the organization is at their mercy.
“The situation is very complex,” he explained. “We’ve made overtures to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (about reopening venues), but they’ve yet to respond. Similarly, we’ve asked the Environmental Protection Department if we could reopen the Tseung Kwan O Football Training Centre but we’ve yet to hear from them either.
“As the recent wave of infections has not waned, the government is focused on fighting the pandemic and so our inquiries have been ignored.”
In June, the FIFA Council approved the establishment of a $1.5 billion USD fund to alleviate the financial impact caused by the pandemic on its member associations. Named the COVID-19 Relief Plan, the scheme calls for a universal solidarity grant of $1 million USD ($7.75 million HKD) to each of the 211 member associations. Additionally, each association is eligible to apply for a loan worth up to 35 per cent of their annual revenues, as long as the amount does not exceed $5 million USD ($38.75 million HKD).
Recently, several media outlets have speculated whether the money could be used to facilitate a restart to the season, given that the regulations allow for funds to be used in this manner. Specifically, Section 6B of FIFA’s Relief Plan Regulations states that funds may be used for “…the implementation of return-to-play protocols including testing.” However, Pui downplayed the speculation as the HKFA has yet to receive the funds.
“These funds are being disbursed in two ‘Tranches’ of $500,000,” he said. “We have to apply to FIFA before we can receive Tranche 1 – which is earmarked for administrative expenses. After we receive the money, we then have to write a report (to the general secretariat) on how we spent Tranche 1 before we can receive Tranche 2 next January.”
Furthermore, Pui stated that the HKFA had no plans to spend the grant money on a potential restart, arguing that the organization needed the money in order to make up for lost income due to the pandemic. When asked what the shortfall in the HKFA’s budget would be, he admitted that the total amount had not yet been calculated, although he ardently insisted there would not be enough money left over to cover the cost of the restart. Pui also denied that the HKFA would require a loan from FIFA at this time.
The chairman did confirm, however, that the organization would continue to study a bubble concept for the restart, as suggested by Dr. Patrick Yung, chairman of the HKFA’s Medical Committee. Once players and coaches enter the bubble, they would be quarantined in their own individual hotel rooms and receive regular testing for coronavirus. They would not be allowed to leave the hotel except for training sessions and matches.
“Each test costs $1,000 so assuming each club brings 30 players, the six clubs combined would be spending $180,000 a day on tests alone,” Pui said, explaining the economics of creating a bubble. “Now multiply that by a six-week schedule – or 42 days – and we’re talking close to $7.56 million in total just for testing.
“It’s definitely not pocket change and it doesn’t include any miscellaneous expenses like a per diem for the players which will add to the costs. This is the other hurdle that (the HKFA) and the clubs are trying to work out.”
In addition to testing whilst in the bubble, FIFA’s guidelines require professional players to be tested three days prior to the resumption of training and once more during the first day of training. Players must test negative on both tests before they are permitted to return to play.
As for suggestions that the HKFA could consider using stadiums in Macau or on the mainland, the chairman dismissed those ideas as “even more troublesome” because, in his opinion, local restrictions in those areas are stricter those of the Hong Kong government. Pui believes that it makes more sense for the restart to take place within Hong Kong, although he conceded that no matter how well the plans are designed, none of it will matter until the government agrees to reopen its venues.
The HKFA’s Board of Directors had planned to meet this week, but the meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for next Thursday, 13 August. Pui warned that if the pandemic situation did not improve, the HKFA will be forced to continue to delay the restart.