Another year, another club in arrears. Plus, an update on the timeline for the 2020-21 season.
It was hardly a year ago when Dreams FC withdrew from the Premier League at the last minute over objections to a proposed, mandatory seven figure deposit to Hong Kong Football Association. Although the deposit would have been required of all clubs, the intention was clear: to force clubs to demonstrate their solvency and to ensure that players would be paid on time, even if their club were unable to do so. One could have interpreted the proposal as a direct response to Dreams, whose players refused to train for parts of May 2019 due to late payments.
Of course, the economy was in better shape a year ago, relatively speaking. The coronavirus pandemic has hit Hong Kong’s economy hard, with retail sales in February down 44 per cent from the previous year, marking the 13th straight month in which sales have dropped in the city.
Hence, it should come as no surprise that over the past weekend, a report emerged that at least two clubs were overdue on payments. The report did not go into detail beyond a single sentence.
On Monday night, a second, more detailed report claimed that an unnamed club, understood to be Tai Po, were in arrears over March’s player salaries. It is unknown whether the district club is one of the two clubs referred to in the earlier report.
“The foreign players had already sent their families home and were planning to stay in Hong Kong until the end of the season until this happened,” said an unnamed source. “We received our February salaries in mid-March. Right now, we’re waiting for our March salaries to come in.
“It’s a mystery to us (as to) when we’ll receive this month’s salary, or anything owed to us until the end of our contracts. The foreigners have vowed not to leave until they’re paid.”
It is believed that both foreign and local players have encountered problems in receiving their salaries on time. When players confronted management about the delay last month, they were told that the club’s mainland-based sponsor was facing cash flow problems brought on by the pandemic.
The players plan to meet again with management after the Easter holiday in hopes of receiving a positive response. All player contracts held by the club are valid through the end of June.
2020-21 season to start in November?
As offside reported last week, the HKFA board of directors is set to vote on the fate of the 2019-20 season on Thursday. The start of the 2020-21 season, however, has remained an open question.
On Sunday, the first answers began to emerge as news leaked regarding the HKFA’s preliminary recommendations to clubs. According to sources, the HKFA has recommended that the 2019-20 season resume in mid-September and finish by early November. After the 47 remaining matches are played, the league will break for three weeks. There will be no promotion and relegation, and the 2020-21 season shall begin following the break.
The 2020-21 season will stretch from November 2020 to June 2021 and the 2021-22 season will be held from September 2021 to June 2022. The HKFA will defer a decision on the calendar year schedule until it has conducted more research.
Although Pegasus, Kitchee and Southern remain in favour of aligning the season with the calendar year, the head coaches of Eastern, R&F and Lee Man have gone public in the past week to air their concerns. The latter, Chan Hiu-ming, has become the most vocal skeptic of the idea, posting his thoughts via his personal Facebook page. In subsequent interviews, Chan made it clear that he was not a critic of the idea itself, but rather the shortened timeline for its implementation.
“Look, every idea, every system has its advantages and disadvantages but if a new idea has so many unknowns, shouldn’t you consult every stakeholder before you go ahead with it?” questioned the Lee Man head coach. “At the moment, we should be focused on whether the HKFA will suspend the season or terminate it. I don’t understand why the two issues need to be tied together.
“Frankly, I have some reservations about the calendar year schedule which I wrote about on Facebook. My main concern is that once you implement it, and once you get past the climate related problems, you can’t just stop with the Premier League. You have to change the schedules for the lower divisions, the women’s leagues and the youth leagues.
“This is a big deal. It’s not something you can just wave a magic wand at and make happen overnight.”
Mechanism determined for withdrawal
The HKFA has informed clubs that if they choose to withdraw from the season without penalty, and retain their spot in the league for the 2020-21 season, they must apply by the end of April. Currently, only Pegasus and Rangers have announced their imminent withdrawal while Yuen Long are still unsure of their direction.
It is understood that the HKFA will annul the results of any match involving a withdrawn club.