SINGAPORE - After 211 days, the wait is over as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) will resume on Oct 17, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong announced on Friday (Oct 9).
He also indicated that the football competition, which has been suspended for almost seven months due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be held behind closed doors for now.
Mr Tong, who is also the Second Minister for Law, 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.
"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.
"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."
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) also released the fixture list, which will see Tanjong Pagar United play Balestier Khalsa at Jurong East Stadium, and Tampines Rovers host Hougang United at Our Tampines Hub in 5.30pm matches on Oct 17.
Despite a cloud over the future participation of Brunei DPMM, who are based in Bandar Seri Begawan, FAS president Lim Kia Tong said the defending champions have been provided an option to play their matches in Singapore, and will wait for a favourable reply by Monday.
He said: "We are extremely pleased with the decision announced by MCCY on the resumption of the SPL. This is an outcome that the FAS and the SPL clubs, along with Sport Singapore and the relevant government authorities, have worked tirelessly towards in recent weeks.
"The FAS will ensure that all the necessary Covid-19 safe protocols are strictly adhered to, to ensure the smooth restart of the league and hopes it will pave the way for more local sports leagues and events to resume."
Since Tanjong Pagar held Albirex Niigata to a 2-2 draw on March 20, the SPL has been halted along with other local sports events due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The eight local-based clubs returned to training on June 20, albeit in groups of five and with no contact allowed, before full-team practice began on Aug 30.
On Oct 4, the SPL players and match officials underwent swab testing.
The resumption date was welcomed by the football community. Geylang International coach Noor Ali said: "This is something we have been waiting for and looking forward to for months, so it is definitely good news.
"We have one week to prepare and we are raring to go. In the next few days, we hope to get more clarity about the fixtures and any rule changes such as the number of substitutions allowed, so we can prepare accordingly."
It is understood that the FAS will be meeting club officials virtually on Monday to share more details about the restart.
The imminent resumption of the SPL, coupled with One Championship's mixed martial arts card on Friday, is a sure sign that live sport is gradually awakening from its Covid-induced coma in Singapore.
The SPL green light had been widely expected following the steady decline in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with few community cases.
The One event, which features foreign athletes who arrived in Singapore and underwent quarantine periods shorter than the stipulated 14 days, had been touted as a pilot project by the Singapore Tourism Board.
The Republic hosts several marquee sports events annually, such as golf's SMBC Singapore Open, the HSBC Women's World Championship, football's International Champions Cup and the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix. All involve global stars who travel here from various parts of the world.
In contrast, the SPL is expected to be the litmus test for local sport.
While the SPL is not of a similar scale to the European football leagues, it must still remain on its toes in terms of safe management measures, so as not to scupper the fraternity's hopes of completing a condensed season by the end of the year.
There is much riding on how well both One and the SPL manage their events, with success or failure potentially deciding how soon other local sports can return to competitive action.