If one likens the progress of Singapore football to a game, the first half wasn't much to shout about. The national team, Singapore Lions, have fallen in the Fifa rankings and are now 163rd in the world. The national league, the S-League, is facing serious questions regarding its viability, with attendances falling over the years. At half-time, there is stirring in the crowd because of a change in the rules which will kick in next month. For the first time in Singapore's football history, the governing body of the sport, the Council of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will be elected by 44 affiliates, instead of being appointed by the Government. So, will a new elected leadership lead to better flowing football in the second half?
The early signs have been encouraging. Some of the sport's leading lights have announced their intention to participate in the election, to be held on April 29. If they form two opposing teams, as speculated, that could perk up the interest of fans. Nothing less than their full-hearted support will be needed to make the Lions a top team. Towards that end, the contesting teams should announce their slates early, as well as their plans to develop and raise the game here. To assess the worth of ideas, details should be made available.
There is a need to develop young talent in schools, promote the sport among all races and not just a minority, and revive interest in the S-League as a feeder of talent for the national team. It's all about bringing the crowd and the Kallang Roar back to the National Stadium. Appreciation of the sport and entertainment aside, football is also about social solidarity and forging a national identity. Older Singaporeans, who have felt that spark when the Lions once roared in the Malaysia Cup tournament, will attest to the power of the game to unify people. In a world of fragmented interests, there is value in reigniting such support.
Hence, campaigning for seats in the FAS Council should not be just sound and bluster. Football can arouse much emotion, which is why it is such an exciting sport. But leaders have to temper passion with realism - sound plans will be needed to produce top teams, personal glory and egos must be contained, and new councils should not make a change just for its own sake or to garner votes. After the excitement of the election, all must come together for the hard slog of turning Singapore football around. It can be a thankless task because public expectations can be unrealistically high and every fan believes he or she has special insights that ought to be followed.
Singapore football is at a crossroads. As not all problems can be solved within the term of a council, leaders must be committed to the long-term future of the game and build steadily on what has been accomplished by others before them. It is a project worth doing well because no sport can arouse as much national stirrings as football.