SINGAPORE: The 2021 season of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) will begin behind closed doors, with only eight teams competing, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced on Tuesday (Feb 23).
In a media release, the FAS noted that Brunei DPMM, who were league champions two seasons ago, had informed them that they had to withdraw from this year's edition of the league due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
"Both parties made significant efforts to explore mutually satisfactory arrangements for DPMM FC’s participation in the league, but it is unfortunate that these did not work out," said the FAS.
"While the situation is unfortunate, the FAS appreciates that DPMM FC has done everything possible to resume its place in the SPL but has to abide by Brunei’s national policies set out to contain the virus. DPMM FC remains an integral part of the SPL and we look forward to welcoming them back next season."
READ: Defending champions Brunei DPMM sit out rest of Singapore Premier League due to COVID-19 travel restrictions
The previous season, which was suspended in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restarted in mid-October, also saw DPMM sit out due to similar issues.
As with the majority of last season, matches are set to be played behind closed doors "for now" in light of the current COVID-19 situation, added the FAS.
"The FAS will review this in consultation with the relevant authorities as the season progresses," it added.
"Comprehensive match protocols" will remain in force for the safety of participants, including mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests for all players and match officials every two weeks beginning at the end of February. There will also be temperature monitoring and declaration, as well as the presence of only essential match-day personnel at venues on match-days.
"All match-day personnel will be required to mask up for the entire duration of time they are at the venue, with the exclusion of players and match referees when they are in action during the match and warm-up activities," added the FAS.
The domestic season will run from Mar 13 to October, with more than 90 matches scheduled to be played, noted the FAS. This includes the 2021 Singapore Cup, which is slated to commence in September.
This year's edition of the Community Shield, which traditionally acts as an annual curtain-raiser to the domestic season, has been rescheduled to Jun 19 and will be contested between champions Albirex Niigata and last season’s runners-up Tampines Rovers.
Albirex were crowned SPL champions just two months ago, making it the sixth consecutive season that a foreign team has won the league.
READ: Football: Albirex crowned Singapore Premier League champions, win fourth league title in five seasons
CHANGES TO QUOTA
In order to align with the requirements of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) club competitions, the SPL's foreign player quota has also been revised with effect from the upcoming season, said FAS.
Each SPL club, excluding Albirex Niigata and the Young Lions, will be allowed to register a maximum of four foreign players with no age restrictions, of whom at least one player shall be of the nationality of an AFC Member Association.
A maximum of four foreign players may be named or fielded in any one match.
"The revised foreign player registration guidelines for the upcoming season falls in line with the regulations of the AFC’s flagship club competitions, the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup," said the FAS.
In addition, Lion City Sailors and Balestier Khalsa will be based at Jalan Besar Stadium and Toa Payoh Stadium respectively for the duration of the 2021 season. This is because Bishan Stadium is currently in the process of being re-turfed, said the FAS.
The Sailors will share Jalan Besar Stadium with the Young Lions. In addition, Hougang United will remain based at Hougang Stadium for the 2021 season.
The SPL is into its third season since it was renamed from the S League. The season will begin with Albirex taking on Hougang United, while Lion City Sailors will go head to head with Tampines Rovers.