SINGAPORE - Singapore will stage its biggest sporting event since the start of the pandemic when it hosts the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup from Dec 5 to Jan 1.
The Republic was awarded the rights to the 10-team tournament, which had been delayed a year due to the pandemic, by the AFF council on Tuesday (Sept 28).
The upcoming edition will be held in one country to minimise travelling. This contrasts with 2018, when the biennial tournament was decentralised, or 2002 to 2016, when two nations hosted games in each of the two groups.
This is the fifth time Singapore will be hosting the AFF Championship group-stage games.
AFF president Khiev Sameth said the regional body had a “difficult decision” to make, with Thailand reportedly the other front runner, but added: “With our overriding priority being the health and safety of everyone involved, in the end, this was the deciding factor when assessing the bids.”
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong said the association was grateful for the trust placed in it by AFF and added: “We promise to do everything necessary in order to stage a successful tournament.”
Even as Singapore battles a surge in daily Covid-19 cases – with Tuesday's tally of 2,236, it was the eighth straight day the country had crossed the 1,000 mark – infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam of the Rophi Clinic welcomed news of the bid.
He told The Straits Times that hosting an event the magnitude of the Suzuki Cup would be a “good warm-up” for subsequent large-scale non-sporting events like meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) involving international participants.
“This will be a test of the immigration, spectator control… (and) a test of the resilience of Singapore,” he said. “If we do not try, we will forever be a turtle in our own shell. Life must move on.”
Singapore is in Group A with five-time champions Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines and the winners of a single-leg qualifier between Brunei and Timor Leste. In Group B, defending champion Vietnam is pooled with Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.
Group A games will be played at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium. Group B games are likely to be played at Jalan Besar Stadium.
While the AFF reportedly did not make spectators a requirement and the FAS did not give any details on the issue, it is understood that fans will be allowed, albeit in capped numbers.
Singapore Premier League matches have recently welcomed 1,000 spectators at stadiums that can hold between 3,800 and 6,000 fans.
With the National Stadium able to accommodate almost 10 times more, it is believed organisers are hoping to work with the authorities to allow between 5,000 and 10,000 fans for Group A games.
The Republic has already successfully hosted several sports events featuring international participants and with spectators, most notably the Singapore Tennis Open in February and various mixed martial arts (MMA) events run by One Championship over the past year.
The most recent was last week’s One: Revolution show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd of 500. Attendees had to either be fully vaccinated or undergo pre-event testing on the day of the event.
For both the tennis and MMA events, overseas-based athletes were tested several times – daily for the tennis players – and their movements in Singapore were limited to the event “bubble”.
Similar protocols would suffice for Suzuki Cup matches, said Dr Leong, who added: “We have a good strategy but now, we just need a good execution.”
After arriving here, foreign teams are expected to spend two days of self-isolation in their hotel rooms to await a negative PCR test result before they are allowed to step out.
Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida said: “With the event now being held in Singapore, I know that the home crowd will roar the team on as we look to do our best... I am very much looking forward to experiencing that again.”