Haze weighs down S-League

Robert Pericic (right) celebrating after scoring for Balestier Khalsa in a hazy S-League match against Courts Young Lions at Toa Payoh Stadium on Oct 19.
Robert Pericic (right) celebrating after scoring for Balestier Khalsa in a hazy S-League match against Courts Young Lions at Toa Payoh Stadium on Oct 19.TNP FILE PHOTO

Matches continue on under unhealthy PSI levels despite players and officials' concerns

With the S-League season due to end on Nov 21, it is a race to the finish line between leaders Brunei DPMM and local powerhouse Tampines Rovers, but match postponements caused by the haze have also meant a scramble to finish the fixtures on time.

With 11 league and Singapore Cup matches postponed, the S-League has given the green light for matches to be played even when the air quality is in the unhealthy range.

Games will be called off only if 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels are above 200.

This has led to concern among the footballers and club officials, who have experienced discomfort in the hazy conditions.

"Earlier this month, there was a revision of guidelines on matches with regard to haze so as to be consistent with the guidelines from the other sporting authorities," the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said in a statement.

"Matches will proceed if the 24-hour PSI is below 201. Further decisions will then be made on an hourly basis thereafter."

But Warriors FC striker Fazrul Nawaz said: "It's uncomfortable. All the players feel it and complain about the issue. When we are out there playing, our eyes feel the discomfort, it's hard to breathe."

Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam added: "Our breathing gets affected, we can't see the ball clearly, and our throats get itchy."

On Monday, three S-League matches - Warriors v Hougang United, Home United v Balestier and Albirex Niigata v Geylang International - played on even though the three-hour PSI reading at 7pm reached an unhealthy level of 173.

Dr Teh Kong Chuan, senior consultant in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital's Sports Medicine Centre, advised that play should not continue once PSI levels cross into the unhealthy range of 101-200.

He said: "It's strenuous, so the players have to breathe in and out much more, which results in more inhalation of harmful particles."

The players and officials sounded out that the players' health should not be compromised for the sake of clearing the fixture pile-up.

Eagles' veteran midfielder Mustaqim Manzur said: "I cannot understand how our health is less important than finishing the matches by Nov 21."

Tampines Rovers' team manager Clement Teo said: "Matches need to be postponed. We should not be rushing to end fixtures and compromise the players' health."

If the season is prolonged, clubs The Straits Times had spoken to are prepared to deal with the additional costs incurred.

In addition, Hougang, who has committed some of its players to 11-month contracts, will extend the agreements to keep them on the roster to see out the campaign.

Hougang club manager Nicholas Low said: "It will be a drain on our resources, but it's only fair that we extend their contract if the matches go beyond the final date."

However, there are also some officials who fear that, in extending the Nov 21 finish date, players might not be sufficiently recharged before the next season starts.

Home United chief executive Azrulnizam Shah said: "We're concerned that the players and staff are given too little time to rest, before the next season comes round."

So while players have to deal with a tighter schedule from now until season's end, some prefer to end the season on schedule, so that it will not eat into their break.

Zaiful said: "Any extension will delay our rest days. So despite the haze, we'll just play on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline 'HAZE WEIGHS DOWN S-LEAGUE'. Print Edition | Subscribe