Football: SPL champs DPMM out for rest of season

Brunei side unable to travel due to Covid-19 restrictions, aim to back for 2021 campaign

The Singapore Premier League, which returned only on Oct 17 following the coronavirus shutdown, will play on without its defending champions Brunei DPMM this year.
The Singapore Premier League, which returned only on Oct 17 following the coronavirus shutdown, will play on without its defending champions Brunei DPMM this year.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

After weeks of uncertainty, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) confirmed yesterday that Brunei DPMM will not be back to defend their Singapore Premier League (SPL) title this season.

The FAS said in a statement that it was informed that DPMM are "unable to participate in their upcoming fixtures, because there are currently no provisions in Brunei that allow them to travel to Singapore".

It added: "There is also currently no confirmation as to when travel can resume at all, due to the evolving Covid-19 situation worldwide."

The SPL will continue without its defending champions, said the FAS, so that "the league concludes in time in order for Singapore's representatives for 2021's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) club competitions to be ascertained".

After a seven-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, the SPL resumed on Oct 17. While DPMM received a bye that game week, they missed the Oct 12 deadline to confirm their participation in the nine-team league.

Their match against Hougang United last Sunday was then postponed as they were unable to travel.

DPMM general manager Ali Haji Momin said the 2015 and 2019 champions aim to be back for the 2021 season, and added: "We were looking forward to defending our title this season. However, despite our best efforts, the travel rules have meant that it is not possible for us to do so.

"We are tremendously grateful for the patience and kind understanding of the FAS over the last few weeks as we both sought a solution to this matter. We wish the other eight teams the best of luck for the rest of this season."

DPMM coach Adrian Pennock said they are disappointed but "respect the government's regulations because it is best to be safe than sorry". He added: "That's it for us this season, and as all of us are on one-year contracts until the end of the year, we will have to meet the management to see where we go from here."

DPMM's withdrawal means the result of the only match they played this season - a 2-0 win over Tampines Rovers at Bandar Seri Begawan on March 6 - will be voided.

However, Tampines coach Gavin Lee does not see it as any advantage even if the other teams no longer have the opportunity to go for six points against DPMM.

Lee said: "It's a shame they will not be taking part because we would like to play them, but there is a bigger picture and we understand the decision.

"We cannot be thinking about what could have been. All our attention is on our next game against Albirex and the games after that."

Calling the situation "unfortunate", FAS president Lim Kia Tong is looking forward to DPMM's return next year.

He said: "I am certain SPL supporters and the other participating clubs were looking forward to see the reigning champions defend their title.

"However, we recognise that these are extraordinary circumstances, and the current situation leaves us with extremely limited options. Brunei DPMM has been a valued participant of the SPL for a better part of the decade and remains an integral part of our league."

Thirty-seven games remain in the revised fixtures list, with teams playing each other twice instead of thrice for big stakes: a trophy, one spot in the AFC Champions League - the continent's top club competition - and two berths in the second-tier AFC Cup.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2020, with the headline 'SPL champs DPMM out for rest of season'. Print Edition | Subscribe