Tampines Rovers players Kyoga Nakamura (left, No. 8) and Jordan Webb (right, no. 10) celebrate a goal in a closed-door Singapore Premier League match at Our Tampines Hub in March 2020. (Photo Credit: Facebook/ Tampines Rovers Football Club)

In the last entry, AseanBola documented the impact the two differing pandemics – SARS in 2013 and the present COVID-19 pandemic – have on football in Southeast Asia.

More than a fortnight on, despite the best efforts of the respective national football authorities in the region, their hands were forced by the governments’ individual measures and, one by one, the game went into a complete shutdown at the end of March.

AseanBola has been following the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on Southeast Asian football through its twitter thread, with a separate tweet on its colour-code scheme. It takes stock on how the epidemic resulted in the enforced recesses of all the national league and international matches in the region.

COVID-19 Early Closing-In Yet to Trigger Regional Football Panic

With the initial advent of the COVID-19 permeating Southeast Asia from January 2020, Thailand became the first country in the region to suspend its national leagues on 3 March, after a number of top-flight clubs campaigned for the move with four rounds of Thai League 1 matches already played.

AFC Cup action between PSM Makassar (Indonesia) and Kaya FC-IloIlo (Philippines) on 10 March 2020. (Photo credit: The Asian Football Confederation)

There was little virus-related activity from the rest of the Asian sub-continent apart from Vietnam and Laos. The former announced that its V.League 1 and 2 matches would be played behind closed doors on 28 February, while the latter revealed that the AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal group match between Lao Toyota and Ho Chi Minh would be played behind closed doors on 10 March.

WHO Pandemic Declaration Sees Southeast Asia React

The turning point would come on 13 March, where several national football governing bodies made their respective moves following the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation two days ago.

Brunei was the second regional nation to suspend its domestic competitions on that day, while Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore announced all its league matches would now be played behind closed doors at the same time. Philippines announced the postponement of the start of its national league on the same day too.

After playing their the scheduled league fixtures behind closed doors on the weekend of 14 and 15 March, Malaysia and Vietnam suspended their domestic competitions alongside Indonesia on 16 March.

On 18 March, in addition to the previously-announced postponement of the scheduled joint FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022-AFC Asian Cup China 2023 qualifiers scheduled for the month, the continental football governing body, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), announced the immediate suspension of the 2020 AFC Cup until further notice.

Previously, despite the onset of the virus, group stage matches in the ASEAN zone had been successfully completed as scheduled as it reached the halfway mark of the phase. With the announcement, this has also bitten the dust for now.

Inevitable Closure of Southeast Asian Football

As the COVID-19 situation deteriorated in Southeast Asia with more confirmed cases and deaths reported in every passing day that month, including previously unaffected countries Laos, Myanmar and Timor Leste, governments imposed their respective tougher measures to restrict local movement at varying levels.

Cambodia was the next to temporarily shut down its national league on 19 March, while the scheduled league kickoff in the Philippines, originally scheduled to kickoff on 21 March, has been postponed.

That eventually led to the region subsequently pulling the shutters on football altogether as Myanmar, Singapore (both from 24 March), Timor Leste (from 21 March) and finally Laos stopping all domestic activity by 26 March. At the time of writing on 3 April, Southeast Asia as a region is now into its ninth successive day of regional football lockdown.

The compiled table below depicts how each Southeast Asian nation descended from limited football activity to total shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Southeast Asian NationFirst Declaration of Closed Door MatchesEffective Date of League SuspensionDays Between Limited Action to Suspension
BruneiNot applicable (N/A)13 March 2020Immediate Suspension
CambodiaN/A19 March 2020Immediate Suspension
IndonesiaN/A16 March 2020Immediate Suspension
LaosN/A – Leagues yet to kick off26 March 2020Immediate Postponement
Malaysia13 March 202016 March 20203
Myanmar13 March 202024 March 202011
PhilippinesN/A – League yet to kick off13 March 2020Immediate postponement
Singapore13 March 202024 March 202011
ThailandN/A3 March 2020Immediate suspension
Timor LesteN/A – League yet to kick off24 March 2020Immediate postponement
Vietnam28 February 202016 March 202018