Yesterday evening, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) met S-League club officials to brief them on next year's funding, which The Straits Times (ST) understands will be nearly halved.
This has led to the lament that the drastic reduction is a second major blow to hit the ailing competition in two months, after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced in July measures to tighten the regulation of jackpot operations in sports clubs.
ST understands that the Tote Board is prepared to disburse only $8.5 million for the Republic's only professional sports league for next year, down from the annual figure of $16 million.
The FAS was informed of this decision last week. It is understood that the FAS is preparing plans to present to the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY). Plans include allowing more young players regular game time, and will show it can improve and rejuvenate the ailing league.
"It really is a double whammy," a club official said. "It is already hard enough to look for sponsors. With tougher regulations on the jackpot machines, the S-League clubs will really struggle to find money."
MHA's stricter regulations on the operation of fruit machines are aimed at reducing the number of machines over the next two years. It also targets football clubs that have jackpot revenue but do not field a professional team.
In March, national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) announced that it would be the gatekeeper of the Tote Board's subsidies to the FAS, which include an additional $9 million for the association's other operational needs like funding the national team as well as women's football, and payroll.
DRIVEN INTO A CORNER
I won't blame my players if they end up doing something like driving for Uber. At the end of the day, they have to put food on the table for their families.
PHILIPPE AW, Hougang coach, on allowing his players to supplement their income by doing part-time jobs.
The Tote Board manages grant-making activities from gaming surpluses generated by Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club. This is in line with SportSG's practice of disbursing funds to all national sports associations. Previously, the Tote Board disbursed the sum - totalling $25 million - directly to the FAS.
Local S-League clubs (Balestier Khalsa, Geylang International, Home United, Hougang United, Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC) each get about $800,000 in funding from the Tote Board annually.
These clubs typically operate on an annual budget of $1.2 million to $1.5 million.
A SportSG spokesman said: "Discussions are ongoing with FAS on the future plans for the S-League. Until an agreement is reached, it will be premature to talk about the funding."
An FAS spokesman added: "It is premature at this stage to talk about the funding from SportSG as discussions are still ongoing. We are gathering feedback from stakeholders on the proposed plans for the S-League so that we can provide SportSG with all the relevant views as they contemplate the desired outcome for the S-League."
If there is no increase to the $8.5 million figure, the S-League will be faced with tough choices. Options include shutting the 21-year-old league down for a year while it undergoes a makeover or turning it into a semi-professional league.
Such measures could mean players losing their livelihoods and could make the league unappealing to potential sponsors.
Hougang coach Philippe Aw hopes the drastic reduction will not signal an end to the league.
He said: "I hope the FAS will not take the easy way out by closing the S-League for one year. The whole S-League fraternity needs to think harder about how we can save money... I won't blame my players if they end up doing something like driving for Uber. At the end of the day, they have to put food on the table for their families."
The club official added: "We could reduce the number of professional players from 25 to 18-20. There is still the Prime League (where each side can select 20 players). But the quality of play will definitely be affected. The almost 50 per cent cut in funding is still too big a gap for the clubs to close."