Football: S'pore Premier League players ready to get back on pitch despite worries over virus

A pre-season match between Geylang International and Tanjong Pagar United at Jurong West Stadium on Feb 08, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Players in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) are eager to get back to work, even if some have concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

With sports facilities here reopening in Phase 2 of post circuit-breaker measures, the SPL - Singapore's only professional sports league - could resume games next month. It had been suspended since March 24.

While some players in the English Premier League have publicly voiced concerns about returning to training and playing games, most SPL players told The Straits Times they would have no qualms about returning to action when allowed to.

Players usually spend around two hours training each session, often in close proximity with up to 30 teammates and coaching staff. A resumption of training with social distancing measures, however, could see training drills limited to small groups of five players, and a 'no-contact' rule implemented initially, much like what top European leagues such as the German Bundesliga and English Premier League are doing.

Lion City Sailors midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman, who has two sons aged seven and four, said he was confident that the authorities would only allow the SPL to resume once it was absolutely safe to do so. He added that players might be worried about "reprecussions" if they were to refuse to return to the pitch.

"We cannot possibly just stay at home until the vaccine is found," reasoned the 32-year-old.

"It is our responsibility to take all the necessary precautions, be it at home or when we are outside.

"Playing football is our livelihood, and I am sure the (authorities) would have put a lot of thought before they allow the league to resume."

Geylang International coach Mohd Noor Ali agreed. The 45-year-old, whose wife, four children and 71-year-old mother-in-law live with him, said personal responsibility would be key to a safe resumption of the SPL.

"It is every individual's choice (to return or not)," said the former national player. "As for me, I will be back on the pitch once everything is okay and will keep following the guidelines that the government gives us. If we do things the correct way, hopefully, everything will be fine."

In the EPL, Watford captain Troy Deeney has refused to return to training, while Manchester City star Sergio Aguero and Brighton striker Glenn Murray have questioned the "rush" to restart the top tier in England, with Britain reporting nearly 40,000 deaths from the Covid-19 virus - the second-highest tally in the world after the United States.

Tanjong Pagar United captain Faritz Hameed, who has two daughters aged one and four, said he is has no concerns about returning to train and play, but added he understood the anxiety of players in England because the risk of infection there is higher.

Lion City Sailors forward Gabriel Quak, a father of two young children, said that he is wary of "a chance of a second wave" of infections in Singapore.

"The healthcare system here is among the best in the world, but... of course I am worried, because the (virus) spreads very quickly," said the 29-year-old, whose daughter is four and son is one.

"It will take a cohesive effort for us all to be safe because, with just one irresponsible person, the situation may worsen."

While he is ready to return to the pitch, Quak admitted that fatherhood has changed his outlook.

"You can't force anyone (to return to playing) because it is a personal choice and they may have family members that are vulnerable," he said.

"Everyone is in a different situation. For example, if I were single, I would be more daring.

"Players should speak to their clubs' management to let them know about their (home) situation and see how they can try to manage it... what is important is to communicate with your clubs."

Hougang United coach Clement Teo believes SPL players are "itching" to return to action, and does not expect any of his players to have an issue with playing again.

But he added: "I fully understand their concerns (if they refuse)... Naturally, we all want to protect our family and our loved ones."

- Additional reporting by Arvinash Ravindran and Neo Yee Pung

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