Saudi Arabia plans the return of professional football during the coronavirus pandemic

August is considered a possible option
King Abdullah Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

PHOTO/AP  -   King Abdullah Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian football officials are considering how to bring the official competition back after a forced halt due to the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 disease, a plague that has hit the world, although in the Kingdom it is having less impact than in other countries that have been hit hardest (it has only just over 300 deaths and nearly 60,000 diagnosed cases).

The aim is to reactivate the Prince Mohammed bin Salman League, as the Saudi professional tournament is known, as soon as possible, and the dates and scenarios for the return are being analysed. 

According to the Saudi Arabian sports channel 24 Sport, the decision on the return of football to the Kingdom is expected to be taken in the next few days. "There are a number of proposals under consideration, including cancelling the results of the current season," the media reported, in order to resume the competition. 

Copa Asiática de la AFC, los aficionados sostienen carteles del príncipe heredero de Arabia Saudí, Mohammed bin Salman, y del rey de Arabia Saudí, Salman bin Abdulaziz, antes de un partido entre Arabia Saudí y Qatar
PHOTO/REUTERS - AFC Asian Cup fans hold posters of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz before a match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar

A possible date of return is being considered on August 20, according to the deliberations of the Saudi Arabian Professional Football League Association and its president, Yasser bin Hassan Almshal. That date is a first preliminary proposal, but other possibilities are being considered in the event that this date is not appropriate on the advice of the national health authorities. For the time being, everything is subject to the conditions of the coronavirus on Saudi territory and the position of the relevant agencies assessing the state of the spread of COVID-19 in the nation.

Partido de fútbol de la Liga profesional saudí entre Al-Hilal y Al-Ettifaq en el estadio Rey Saud, en Riad, Arabia Saudí, el 7 de marzo de 2020
PHOTO/REUTERS - Saudi Arabian Professional League football match between Al-Hilal and Al-Ettifaq at King Saud Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 7 March 2020
The relative cost of the resumption of the League

The 16 clubs that make up the Saudi Premier League have estimated the cost of reviving or permanently cancelling this season's league championship, which was suspended due to the effects of the coronavirus. 

According to the Saudi Arabian sports information portal koora.com, estimates from sports institutions put the expenditure at around 500 million rials (around 133 million dollars). The costs include the salaries of players, coaches, various contracts and emoluments from sponsors. That is the amount of money at stake and serves as an added element of analysis to assess the situation and make a final determination on whether to end or continue the league tournament, which has among its top teams Al-Hilal, the most successful team with 15 titles, and Al-Nassr, the champion of the last completed season 2018-2019.

Imagen del partido de fútbol de la Liga profesional saudí entre Al-Hilal y Al-Ettifaq en el estadio Rey Saud, en Riad, Arabia Saudí, el 7 de marzo de 2020
PHOTO/REUTERS - Image of the Saudi Arabian Professional League football match between Al-Hilal and Al-Ettifaq at King Saud Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 7 March 2020

As mentioned above, the League is considering August 20 as the starting date for the resumption of the 2019-2020 season, with the consequent formal announcement that it would subsequently reach a coordinated agreement with the competent authorities to follow up on the health crisis triggered by the coronavirus. 

Speaking to Al-Riyadiah, Fahd al-Mudalaj, a manager at Saudi Arabian club Al-Faisaly, explained that the amounts his team has to spend to pay for the players' cards in four months' time are around 15 million rials (about $4 million) if the league resumes.

Imagen con gradas vacías tras el brote de la enfermedad COVID-19, durante el partido de fútbol de la Liga profesional saudí entre Al-Hilal y Al-Ettifaq en el estadio Rey Saud, en Riad, Arabia Saudí, el 7 de marzo de 2020
PHOTO/REUTERS - Image with empty stands after the outbreak of COVID-19 disease, during the Saudi professional league football match between Al-Hilal and Al-Ettifaq at King Saud Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 7, 2020

He said that they are waiting for the final decision of the experts to follow the evolution of COVID-19 and the Ministry of Sports and the League, to decide on the extension of the "additional" contracts for professional players, most of which expire at the end of May, coinciding with what would have been the end of the season under normal conditions. 

Another important aspect to consider is how the positions giving access to the next edition of the Asian Champions League will be determined. In the case of the Saudi Arabian League, the first three places in the ranking.

El príncipe heredero de Arabia Saudí, Mohammed bin Salman
PHOTO/REUTERS - Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

It depends on whether the Saudi Arabian League is cancelled definitively or if it continues, as is being planned, from August onwards. If it is definitively suspended, then the current position of the clubs until the moment of the stoppage would apply, a table led by Al-Hilal, six points ahead of the second, Al-Nassr, and 12 points ahead of Al-Wehda, in third place; and if it continues, they will be able to continue fighting for the privileged positions that give them the option of entering the top club competition in Asia, whose champions have the right to play in the Club World Cup, a tournament that crowns the best team among all the continental champions, an honour currently held by English club Liverpool.