The Local Game: When will football come home to Việt Nam?

July, 13/2021 - 08:00

With the news late last week that the VPF had scrapped plans to resume play this month in light of the worsening COVID-19 outbreak, the grim spectre of a cancelled season reared its ugly head.

 

It's looking less and less likely the 2021 V.League 1 season will be finished. Photo vietnamplus.vn

Peter Cowan         

Football didn’t quite come home over the weekend in England and sadly our 72 days of hurt since V.League 1 play was suspended also look set to continue

With the news late last week that the Việt Nam Professional Football (VPF) Company had scrapped plans to resume play this month in light of the worsening COVID-19 outbreak, the grim spectre of a cancelled season reared its ugly head.

That may sound pessimistic considering the first half of the season has only one round of fixtures left to play and then we’re onto the greatly truncated second half, but I justifiably feel about as optimistic as the entire nation of Scotland did after Luke Shaw’s goal on Sunday night.

Under the plan now consigned to a dustbin somewhere in VPF headquarters, the first half of the season would have been finished on July 31 and the rest of the fixtures jammed into 23 days in August with all the matches held in the north, something approaching the “bubbles” basketball leagues have adopted.

Just the other week I very foolishly panned this approach as being detrimental to the quality of play and while I still think making teams play every three or four days would result in some poor spectacles, it would have been better than nothing.

I say that because the national team’s World Cup qualifiers begin in September, so the squad will be called up in late August for training, the U23 team have Asian Cup qualifiers in October and the ASEAN Football Federation Championship is slated for December. Not to mention there are more World Cup qualifiers in October and November.

Take that jam-packed fixture list and combine it with the pressure that will be put on the VPF by the Việt Nam Football Federation and coach Park Hang-seo to ensure the national teams have the best possible conditions to prepare, and the league is the odd man out.

It’s perverse to some degree that the VPF won well-deserved plaudits for finishing the league in 2020 when seasons worldwide were scrapped, yet 2021 is under threat when sport is back to normal in most of the world.

The elephant in the room here is Việt Nam’s strict pandemic prevention measures and while I’m never going to argue that sport should come before public health, the VPF does need to do some long-term thinking to avoid long-term damage to the V.League.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that COVID-19 is here for the long haul and periodic outbreaks are going to be part of life for the foreseeable future, so figuring out how sport can go on amid virus restrictions is a must for governing bodies.

I think centralised venues have to be the way forward.

At present, matches can only be played when the local provincial or municipal People’s Committee gives the go-ahead, and officials are always likely to err on the side of caution instead of risking a large outbreak for some poxy mid-table clash.

Keeping matches in as few locations as possible reduces the risk of an outbreak stopping play and the VPF had the right idea when it proposed finishing the season in the north, as there are enough stadiums in and around Ha Noi to accommodate plenty of matches.

While creating a V.League 1 “bubble” probably isn’t feasible due to the number of people involved with a football club, for me, the VPF should be laying the groundwork to start the 2021 season in as compact an area as possible.

If the league can show to a couple of local governments that a couple of fixtures won’t ruin their COVID-19 prevention work, perhaps football can come home for real before too long. VNS

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