Football: Uncertainty over champions Brunei DPMM's participation in S'pore Premier League restart

Players from Brunei DPMM celebrating at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium after winning the 2019 Singapore Premier League. PHOTO: SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

SINGAPORE - Defending champions Brunei DPMM have missed the Monday (Oct 12) deadline to confirm their participation in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) restart that kicks off Saturday.

Last Friday, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that the nine-team SPL would return after a suspension of more than 200 days due to the coronavirus pandemic. This was after swab tests for all 223 local-based players and match officials had tested negative for Covid-19.

FAS president Lim Kia Tong said then that DPMM have been provided an option to play their matches in Singapore, and that the association would wait for a favourable reply by Monday. DPMM were also pencilled into the updated fixtures list, albeit with a bye for the first gameweek.

However, The Straits Times understands the FAS is still in ongoing discussions with DPMM about their participation status. It is understood this delay has led to a postponement in a briefing session with the clubs about safe management measures and updated laws of the game.

DPMM coach Adrian Pennock is also none the wiser, despite having overseen staggered groups-of-10 training sessions since the end of July.

"Ideally, we would want to defend our title, even if we have not had a single full training session since the break," he told ST.

"We showed our quality by beating Tampines 2-0 at home in our first and only game this season. Imagine the EPL without Liverpool - the league won't be the same without the defending champions.

"But we also respect the rules of the (Brunei) government... We are not in control of the final decision, but the morale within the team is good. It is not an easy situation to be in, and we will just keep our heads down and keep working."

Should DPMM not return for the remainder of the season, the biggest beneficiary appears to be Tampines, who lost 2-0 in Bandar Seri Begawan on March 6 as that result would likely be voided and the Stags would remain top of the table with a perfect record of three wins.

But Tampines coach Gavin Lee said he would be disappointed if that happens.

He added: "We want to play DPMM again because they are the champions, and we want to beat them at home because we lost our first encounter.

"But this is not up to us, and we can only focus on what is ahead of us."

The first games of the restart will see the Stags host Hougang United at Our Tampines Hub, and Tanjong Pagar United take on Balestier Khalsa at Jurong East Stadium. Both matches kick off at 5.30pm on Saturday.

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