Football: Strict protocols in place ahead of SPL restart on Oct 17

Swab tests, up to five subs and two water breaks among measures for Sat

Tampines Rovers defender Baihakki Khaizan taking a swab test ahead of the resumption of the Singapore Premier League, on Oct 4, 2020.
Tampines Rovers defender Baihakki Khaizan taking a swab test ahead of the resumption of the Singapore Premier League, on Oct 4, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Strict protocols will be implemented to ensure the safety of match-day personnel when the Singapore Premier League (SPL) resumes on Saturday (Oct 17) after a suspension of more than 200 days due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At a virtual meeting with club officials on Wednesday (Oct 14), the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) shared these measures - as advised by the Health Promotion Board, Ministry of Health (MOH) and Sport Singapore - with the nine participating clubs.

On Saturday, Tampines Rovers will host Hougang United at Our Tampines Hub, while Tanjong Pagar take on Balestier Khalsa at Jurong East Stadium. Both games will kick off at 5.30pm behind closed doors with just under 100 essential personnel - including players, officials, medical staff, and match-day, broadcast and media workers - allowed in.

In order to avoid unnecessary congregation at any point at the stadiums, entry for these essential personnel will be staggered across a five-hour period before kick-off. Similarly, departure after every match will also be controlled across a one-hour period after the final whistle.

Five match-day zones - broadcasting, stand (staggered areas in spectator stands), entrance, official Area (tunnel, dressing room) and field of play - are also established at stadiums, where access will be controlled to prevent inter-mingling.

Except for players and match officials who are in action during the game or warm-up session, all match-day personnel are to wear masks while they are in the stadiums.

While all 223 local-based players and match officials tested negative for Covid-19 on Oct 4, they will undergo swab tests every two weeks. Anyone who tests positive from this group will have to immediately self-isolate and subsequently follow the relevant standard operating protocols established by MOH.

All clubs are required to complete and submit declaration forms to FAS for all players, coaches and officials one day before match day. They will have to check their temperature both two days and one day before match day, and anyone with a temperature of 38 deg C or higher will not be allowed to participate in the upcoming match.

Likewise, anyone who has travelled out of Singapore in the 14 days prior to a match, or who has been in contact with anyone who is Covid-19 positive or serving a stay-home notice will also be barred from the game.

Gerard Christopher, FAS chief of the general secretary's office, said: "It is imperative that every single person involved on match days upon the SPL's resumption strictly adheres to these protocols, as they are necessary in order to safeguard the well-being of everyone.

"As the first local professional league competition to be allowed to resume, the FAS recognises the responsibility it bears to ensure that the league is able to function as smoothly and safely as possible, with the inherent safety measures."

In addition, the FAS also shared with the clubs several amendments made to the laws of the game for the rest of the SPL season which are aligned with leagues across the world.

One key change is that the maximum number of substitutions teams can make during a game has been increased from three to five.

Outside of the half-time break, teams will be allowed a maximum of three substitution windows during the first and second halves.

Mandatory water breaks will also be introduced in all matches to help players as they return to the full rigours of match-day action after a hiatus of almost seven months of non-competitive football.

These one-minute breaks will take place in the 25th and 70th minutes, and players are to drink from personalised bottles.

Geylang International coach Noor Ali feels the measures are adequate in ensuring a safe return to the SPL.

He added: “We are resuming the league with a pre-season that is not normal. The players may be physically fit, but not match-fit as we did not have any friendly matches.

“The increase in number of substitutions is important for clubs to reduce the possibility of injuries in a fast and furious season, especially in the first round of matches.

“It will be a different experience and it will be interesting to see the effects on each club and how each club adapt to the changes.”

Due to the coronavirus-enforced break, the SPL season will be shortened from three rounds of matches to two rounds, while the Singapore Cup has been cancelled this season.