Brunei DPMM can't travel, to sit out this SPL season
Holders can't leave Brunei due to Covid-19 protocols, leaving league with 8 teams
Reigning Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions Brunei DPMM will not defend their title this season, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) confirmed yesterday.
In a media release, the FAS said that there are currently no provisions in Brunei that allow DPMM to travel to Singapore and, as a result, they will have to sit out the rest of this season. This leaves the SPL with eight locally based teams.
The news was met with disappointment among some members of the SPL, which had resumed on Oct 17 after being suspended for nearly seven months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It is a pity, disappointing news. They are a good side," Hougang United coach Clement Teo told The New Paper.
"They would have given teams a real challenge and made the league a little more interesting... but we need to respect their government's decision... It is better to be safe than sorry.
"I've been in touch with their coach (Adrian Pennock) and he told me that the news comes as a huge disappointment, as they were working very hard and looking forward to coming to Singapore and defend their title."
DPMM had played only once this season, a 2-0 victory over fellow title rivals Tampines Rovers on March 6 in Bandar Seri Begawan, a result that would be voided.
Tampines coach Gavin Lee said: "It is definitely a shame for our competition because they are a good side and we were looking to playing them again.
"Unfortunately, this is a consequence of the pandemic."
Teo believes that despite the withdrawal of the defending champions, the integrity of the competition remains intact.
"(The exclusion of one team) does not make the league any less competitive," he said.
"It is down to the individual on how he views the eventual SPL winners but, as far as I'm concerned, the winners will be worthy champions, simply because they competed."
It was a sentiment shared by veteran Stags defender Baihakki Khaizan. "Firstly, I want to express my most sincere apologies to DPMM, I wish them all the best and hope to see them again next season," the 36-year-old centre-back said.
"They are good competitors, with good foreigners in their side and are tough to beat at home. So I'm sure the local teams are going to miss that.
ONE MATCH PLAYED
"All that said, DPMM have played only one game and it is not like they played half a season and were top of the table."
On their absence, DPMM general manager Ali Haji Momin said: "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 hope to return for the 2021 season in full force."
Also looking forward to the Bruneian side's return next year is FAS president Lim Kia Tong.
"It is extremely unfortunate that Brunei DPMM will not be able to join us for the resumption of the SPL campaign, as I am certain fans and the other participating clubs are looking forward to see the reigning champions defend their title," he said.
"However, we recognise that these are extraordinary circumstances, and the current situation leaves us with extremely limited options... We look forward to welcoming them back next season."
Following the exclusion of DPMM and with the SPL season truncated to two rounds, there are 37 matches left to be completed by Dec 5 to determine the three representatives for next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) club competitions.
The top-ranked local team will qualify directly for the group stage of the AFC Champions League, while the next two highest-ranked local teams will qualify directly for the group stage of the AFC Cup.