Southeast Asia Vietnam

Southeast Asian Leagues Under Uncertainty Thanks to COVID

With COVID-19 cases rising worldwide thanks to the spread of the Delta variant, the leagues of Southeast Asia are facing an uncertain period as either their resumption or their kick-offs has been affected by the strengthening of restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

Out of the 11 countries within the region, football has made its return to society in only four – Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, and Cambodia. There were little to no information regarding the Lao Premier League for the 2021 season, while regardless of the pandemic’s progression this year’s Myanmar National League will be most certainly put on ice thanks to the coup earlier this year and the protests and violence that followed suit.

This year’s Liga Super Malaysia and the Cambodian C-League resumed underneath strict health protocols, which bars fans from attending games in stadiums while those involved in games were subjected to stringent testing procedures, while similar measures are also being done for the Singapore Premier League’s own restart, albeit with 100 fans being allowed into stadiums for each game. Singapore had initially allowed 250 people into their stadiums to spectate SPL matches, however the cap was lowered down to 100 due to fresh COVID cases within the island state.

The three leagues were paused due to the involvement of the Malaysia, Cambodia, and Singapore national teams in the recently-concluded World Cup qualifiers as well as to allow both Johor Darul Ta’zim (Malaysia) and Tampines Rovers (Singapore) time to prepare and participate in this year’s AFC Champions League. The planned break was extended due to the increase of COVID-19 cases within Southeast Asia though, however this did not deter the trio from resuming hostilities.

Brunei’s Super League, on the other hand, kicked-off their campaign for 2021 in June underneath equally strict health protocols, with matches being played behind closed doors. The 2021 BSL season saw DPMM FC fielding their main squad instead of their reserves as they usually did each season, due to the club’s first team being barred from leaving Brunei to participate in the SPL in accordance to the country’s COVID regulations.

Out of the other Southeast Asian leagues yet to restart or kick-off, the Philippines Football League have shown the most amount of preparations. Utilizing the same closed-circuit bubble tournament format that they had implemented in 2020, the PFL will once again use the PFF National Training Center in Cavite for games, with the 6 teams from last year being joined by a number of potential newcomers. The likes of Loyola FC, Laos FC, and Dynamic Herb Cebu have declared their interest to join the likes of United City FC and Kaya FC-Iloilo in this year’s PFL.

On the other hand, the 2021 V.League 1 season is being thrown into turmoil as the Vietnamese authorities struggle to contain outbreaks after outbreaks of COVID-19 within the country. The league was paused after the penultimate round of the season’s first half in May due to a fresh outbreak of COVID cases within last-placed Song Lam Nghe An, before it was decided that the season will enter it’s scheduled mid-season break early to allow both the Vietnam national team and defending league champions Viettel FC to prepare and participate in the World Cup qualifiers and the ACL respectively.

And while the V.League 1 was scheduled to restart in July, Vietnam’s ever-increasing COVID cases meant that the postponement was prolonged further. An idea was mulled to restart the season in 2022 much to the outrage of the clubs, who felt that restarting the season that late would drive them into bankruptcy, before a compromise was seemingly reached that sees the season being scheduled to restart in November of this year.

Thailand’s Thai League 1 and Indonesia’s Liga 1 Indonesia were scheduled to kick-off this July, however the two leagues were forced to postpone their season due to a drastic increase of COVID cases within both countries. A meeting between Thai football stakeholders in late July saw an agreement being reached to start the 2021 season in September, while Indonesian football authorities are pushing for a late August kick-off schedule for the Liga 1.

However, the postponement serves as another blow to the players of the Liga 1, who had yet to play a league match since March of 2020. PSIS Semarang’s Flavio Beck have terminated his contract with the Mahesa Jenar due to the uncertainties surrounding the restart of Indonesian football, while Bali United’s Brwa Nouri has spoken that he might leave the Serdadu Tridatu and return to Sweden should the Football Federation of Indonesia (PSSI) fail to ensure that the 2021 season would start sometime within this year.

Last but not least, the Timor-Leste Football Federation (FFTL) have announced that they will hold the second edition of the Copa FFTL this August. The knockout cup competition, which has teams from both tiers of Timor-Leste football as participants, was held to replace the 2020 league season that was scrapped by the pandemic.