Football: SPL players, match officials to be tested for Covid-19 ahead of Oct 10 target restart

Football: SPL players, match officials to be tested for Covid-19 ahead of Oct 10 target restart

SINGAPORE – Players and match officials in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) clubs will undergo swab testing for Covid-19 by the end of this week, as the league looks toward an Oct 10 resumption.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) informed club officials of this requirement in a Zoom meeting on Tuesday (Sept 29) evening.

The SPL, Singapore’s only professional sports league, has been suspended since March 24 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari told The Straits Times: “The SPL resumption is dependent on clearance by the relevant Government agencies.

“The clubs have been training in full since Sept 1 and an all-clear from the swab tests will be a big step towards a restart. The players and officials will be at the forefront of the football action and thus we are prioritising them for this initial testing.”

Infectious diseases expert Dr Leong Hoe Nam said that it is the right time to consider a resumption of the SPL, noting that Singapore has “done well” in its management of the Covid-19 situation, with few community cases recently.

He said testing players once before every game would be ideal, with fortnightly tests also workable.

“The swabbing is a form of assurance to the public and players that care and prudence have been exercised,” he said.

Most leading overseas leagues such as the English Premier League (EPL) and Spanish La Liga, among others, conduct regular testing for Covid-19 among players and officials.

Just on Monday, the EPL announced that 10 people had tested positive for Covid-19 and would need to self-isolate for 10 days.

Last week, West Ham manager David Moyes and two of his players also tested positive – they were asymptomatic. In total, 20 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus since the new season began on Sept 12.

ST had reported last Saturday that the SPL could return on Oct 10, should the multi-ministry taskforce give the go-ahead, and FAS president Lim Kia Tong had noted there were “some healthy signs” that raised the possibility for a “resumption in the first part of October”.

Games will be played without fans and precautions in place will be similar to when the SPL moved to closed-door matches shortly before its suspension.

There will also likely be changes to the format of domestic league and Cup competitions, with a view to reducing the total number of games played. Originally, each club in the nine-team league were scheduled to play each other thrice.

There are still question marks over the participation of defending champions Brunei DPMM, with the team’s head coach Adrian Pennock telling ST last week the situation was “out of their hands” as they have yet to resume full training.

The SPL fraternity welcomed the news of the imminent resumption.

Tampines Rovers chairman Desmond Ong said: “Clearly we are happy at the news of a proposed resumption but we remain cautious and guided by the taskforce as to how to go about matters.

“We mustn’t let anything put to waste all the hard work put in by all our healthcare workers.”

Cheng Tim Nee, general manager of Balestier Khalsa, said that swab testing is a “positive step” towards a restart, adding: “We hope all will go smoothly and we can resume league action under a safe condition for everyone involved.”

For Hougang United midfielder Fabian Kwok, the league’s return cannot come soon enough. “After training for months over Zoom during the circuit breaker, then two months of training in groups of five, and now almost a month of normal training, it’s starting to get a bit mundane,” he said.

“Ultimately, we look forward to competition again… and since the end of circuit breaker we have heard so many rumours of when the league might restart. We are tired of them (the rumours) already.”

Another player, who asked not to be named, said he was thrilled by the news as the players had felt as if they were training hard “without a real direction”.

“I also applaud the move for testing, because I think this is a move that will keep all players and officials even safer,” he added.