Editor’s note: this article was first published on 5 October 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Fill Me In
The Singapore Premier League (SPL) is set to return, with players undergoing COVID-19 tests ahead of its 10 October kick-off.
Footballers from eight local teams, as well as SPL match officials were tested at the former Siglap Secondary School in Pasir Ris. However, coaches and team officials were not tested, as they are expected to remain masked up during matches.
All tests must come back negative before the SPL is able to resume all activities. However, as test results will only arrive midweek, it leaves teams with less than 48 hours to prepare for their first game in seven months.
The SPL, Singapore’s only professional sports league, has been suspended since 24 March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and only resumed full training on 1 September.
Coaches need more time
The Straits Times interviewed coaches on the limited timeframe, and all agreed that the 10 October restart date was too rushed.
“We need to know [early] when our first game is, so that we know when to push the boys physically, when to rest them, when to work on technical things, and when to work on the tactical side of things,” commented Marko Kraljevic, coach for Balestier Khalsa.
Continuous COVID-19 testing is expected to continue throughout the season. It will be conducted once every fortnight to ensure the health of players and prevent the spread of viral transmission.
Games will also be played without fans; similar precautions were taken when the league had closed-door matches before its suspensions.
But players want to play
Despite the lack of fans at games, players are excited to compete once again.
“We are eager to play,” said Hyrulnizam Juma’at, goalkeeper for Albirex Niigata. The team, which is a satellite of the club in Japan, has a number of Japanese players in Singapore. “For my Japanese teammates, they are in Singapore to play football; it is their number one priority. So we are all just keen to start as soon as possible,” said Hyrulnizam.
Baihakki Khaizan, defender for Tampines Rovers, is also positive the return of the SPL will be welcomed by fans, even if they are not able to catch the match in ‘live’ action.
“This is the moment we have been waiting for. Not only players, everyone at the club… as a whole nation, we are looking forward to the restart,” he said to The New Paper.
Defending champions likely to miss the league
It is unclear, however, if SPL’s defending champions, Brunei DPMM, will be able to participate in the league. The team is currently in Brunei, and the National Football Association of Brunei has announced that it would cancel its domestic Brunei Super League. The team has also yet to resume full training.
“We want to defend our title, obviously, and if the league resumes without us, it would be a shame,” said coach Adrian Pennock on the possibility of his team having to sit out in this year’s league.
“It’s a very difficult decision, but we have to take note of the welfare of our staff and our team, and also the Singapore teams that have to come here to play.”
All 223 SPL players have tested negative for COVID-19
As of 9 October, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong announced that the Singapore Premier League (SPL) will resume on 17 October.
Tong has also stipulated that matches will be held behind closed doors for now, in lieu of the pandemic. He wrote on his Facebook page: “It’s been a long off-season but the players (even the coaches and match officials too!) are raring to hear the whistle blow once more…We won’t be able to watch the matches live at the stadium just yet. But you and your loved ones can still catch them on live-streams and selected cable broadcast channels.”
Additionally, he also mentioned that all 223 players involved in the SPL have been tested negative for COVID-19: “Glad to hear that the COVID-19 swab test results came back negative for all 223 players and match officials. Coaches and team officials will be masked up during games, alongside other safe management measures. Only the 22 players and 4 match referees on the field can be unmasked.”