Football: SPL champs DPMM out for the season due to Covid-19 travel restrictions

DPMM's withdrawal means the result of the only match they have played this season will be voided.
DPMM's withdrawal means the result of the only match they have played this season will be voided.PHOTO: SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

SINGAPORE - After weeks of uncertainty, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on Monday (Oct 26) confirmed that Brunei DPMM will not be back to defend their Singapore Premier League (SPL) title this season.

In a statement, the FAS said it was informed that DPMM "are unable to participate in their upcoming fixtures, because there are currently no provisions in Brunei that allow them to travel to Singapore".

It added: "There is also currently no confirmation as to when travel can resume at all, due to the evolving Covid-19 situation worldwide."

As such, it has been decided that the SPL will continue without its defending champions, such that "the league concludes in time in order for Singapore's representatives for 2021's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) club competitions to be ascertained".

The SPL had resumed on Oct 17 after a near seven-month suspension owing to the pandemic.

While DPMM received a bye that game week, they missed the Oct 12 deadline to confirm their participation in the nine-team SPL. Their match against Hougang United last Sunday was then postponed as they were unable to travel.

DPMM general manager Ali Haji Momin said the 2015 and 2019 champions aim to be back for the 2021 season, and added: "We were looking forward to defending our title this season. However, despite our best efforts, the travel rules have meant that it is not possible for us to do so.

"We are tremendously grateful for the patience and kind understanding of the FAS over the last few weeks as we both sought a solution to this matter. We wish the other eight teams the best of luck for the rest of this season."

DPMM's withdrawal means the result of the only match they have played this season - a 2-0 win over Tampines Rovers in Bandar Seri Begawan on March 6 - will be voided.

Calling the situation "unfortunate", FAS president Lim Kia Tong is looking forward to DPMM's return next year.

He said: "I am certain SPL supporters and the other participating clubs were looking forward to seeing the reigning champions defend their title.

"However, we recognise that these are extraordinary circumstances, and the current situation leaves us with extremely limited options. Brunei DPMM FC has been a valued participant of the SPL for a better part of the decade and remains an integral part of our League."

Thirty-seven games remain in the revised fixture list, with teams playing each other twice instead of thrice for big stakes in the form of one trophy, one spot in the AFC Champions League - the continent's top club competition - and two berths in the second-tier AFC Cup .