Football: S'pore Premier League players undergo Covid-19 testing ahead of October restart

Tampines Rovers defender Baihakki Khaizan getting swab tested on Oct 4, 2020.
Tampines Rovers defender Baihakki Khaizan getting swab tested on Oct 4, 2020.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Players in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) took another step towards a return to action when they underwent swab testing for Covid-19 on Sunday (Oct 4).

Footballers from all eight local-based sides - Balestier Khalsa, Geylang International, Hougang United, Lion City Sailors, Tampines Rovers, Tanjong Pagar United, Young Lions, and Japanese outfit Albirex Niigata - were tested at the former Siglap Secondary School in Pasir Ris, as were SPL match officials.

Coaches and team officials at each of these clubs were not tested as they are expected to remain masked up during games.

The ninth team in the SPL are defending champions DPMM, who are based in Brunei.

The SPL, Singapore's only professional sports league, has been suspended since March 24 owing to the coronavirus pandemic, with clubs only resuming full training on Sept 1. ST reported last month that an Oct 10 return is on the cards, subject to all test results coming back negative.

However, sources tell ST there is a likelihood of a slight delay to the SPL's resumption, as the results from the first round of testing are expected to only arrive in midweek, leaving teams with barely 48 hours to prepare for a first game back in almost seven months.

SPL coaches ST spoke to feel a longer run-up is needed before the first match.

"October 10 would be too rushed," said Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic."If you delay the restart to the following week, we would have 10 days, and that would be just nice.

"We need to know (early) when our first game back is, so that we know when to push the boys physically, when to rest them, when to work on technical things, and when to work on the tactical side of things."

Agreeing, Hougang coach Clement Teo added: "We don't even know what the fixtures (frequency) are like, and we don't know who we're playing yet, so how do we prepare?"

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

 
 
 

In the EPL, where fans are still not allowed into stadiums, players are tested weekly.

Manchester City players Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte and Ilkay Gundogan, Liverpool duo Thiago Alacantara and Sadio Mane, West Ham manager David Moyes and two of his players, are among those who have tested positive since the new season began on Sept 12.

EPL players or club staff who have tested positive for coronavirus will self-isolate and quarantine for a period of 10 days. Those who show symptoms of Covid-19 but test negative are also required to self-isolate. According to Premier League rules, fixtures will go ahead as planned as long as teams have 14 professional players available for selection.

In the Italian Serie A, if 10 players test positive within a week, a club can request the postponement of a match. However, the request can only be granted once in the season.

The new season got underway on Sept 19 with a maximum 1,000 spectators allowed into stadiums.

In the SPL, Covid-19 tests will be conducted every fortnight and games will be played without fans and precautions in place will be similar to when the league 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 one another thrice.

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