Singapore's professional football league has dropped a controversial age-restriction rule that would have limited the number of players above the age of 30 who could play in next season's S-League.
Less than three weeks after age rules were announced by S-League chief executive Lim Chin, the league said in a statement last night it would not be making changes after all to force teams to meet quotas for younger and older players.
"Following discussions, the S-League and the club chairmen have decided not to implement the new rules of maximum and minimum number of players for the various age categories," it said. "The decision was taken after careful consideration of the appeals made by some affected players."
It had wanted all six local clubs in the 10-team league to have no more than five outfield players above 30 and at least three players aged 25 or under.
The rules came under fire immediately from older players, writers to The Straits Times Forum Page and sports commentators who felt the curbs on older players were nothing short of discrimination, and that players should be judged on ability and fitness, not age.
The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) also weighed in and met S-League officials last Monday to seek clarification on the proposed changes. It is believed that several players also put their grievances to the Manpower Ministry.
The sequence of events apparently led to the change of heart announced yesterday. The statement also said: "The S-League's goal is to always improve the standard of football to make it more exciting and competitive. The clubs must also be able to compete at the regional level. To achieve these goals, there will be a continued and greater emphasis on performance, a high level of fitness, and the ability to play at a high intensity for all players in the league."
More than 40 players above 30 would have been affected by the rule change, with more than 10 forced out of a job.
Warriors FC defender Jeremy Chiang, who turns 30 next year and was part of his team's title-winning squad this year, was relieved to hear about the turn of events.
Said Chiang, who will now be actively seeking a club after previously deciding to hang up his boots: "It gives more opportunities to the affected players and it shows that the board and management have heard the feedback from players and fans and acted on it. I think the sheer volume of noise from the public certainly had an impact."
But for others like Zahid Ahmad, 36, it may be too late. Said the former Tanjong Pagar United player: "It's good to see common sense has prevailed but, honestly, the damage has been done. Most clubs have already finalised their squads for next season. I've almost given up hope of playing and am looking for another job."
The S-League said it will help players find new careers or further their studies.