Commentary

Historic election gives FAS the chance to recover from the abyss

It may be a battle far removed from the football pitch but make no mistake about it - tomorrow's Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election could well be the most important event in the history of Singapore football.

For the first time ever, leaders of the FAS will be democratically elected for a four-year term and it cannot come at a more crucial moment. If there is a bottom to the proverbial abyss, then Singapore football is perilously close to hitting it. But it wasn't always like this.

From the Lions' fabled Malaysia Cup campaigns to the emergence of the once-in-a-generation talent Fandi Ahmad from the playing fields of Kaki Bukit, football has had the ability to capture the hearts of a nation, even if success on the international stage was hard to come by.

But events that have transpired over the last few years, coupled with revelations of the past weeks, show that there is clearly a systemic problem with local football.

On the pitch, the national team is suffering. Two consecutive group-stage exits in the Asean Football Federation Championship sandwich an abject SEA Games performance on home soil in 2015, depleting fans' confidence in the team.

The election may have exposed Singapore football's ugly underbelly, but it also represents a chance to make things right. The 44 affiliates must know the significance of their vote goes beyond their own clubs' interests.

Off the pitch, the $500,000 donation saga, the $36.8 million jackpot takings and allegations of misuse of club funds and attempts to block audits have hogged the headlines.

The claims and counter-claims made by both teams and the subsequent raids and questioning of senior club and FAS officials by the Commercial Affairs Department show that there are structural, governance and transparency issues that have muddied the beautiful game in Singapore.

But enough about the investigations for now. Let the CAD probe run its course and let's get back to talking football.

The election may have exposed Singapore football's ugly underbelly, but it also represents a chance to make things right.

The 44 affiliates must know the significance of their vote goes beyond their own clubs' interests.

It goes beyond securing more pitches and getting more funds for the 23 National Football League teams, all of whom hold a vote each.

It is more than just about expanding the S-League or improving coaches or developing youth and women's football - all important objectives worthy of consideration by each of the affiliates who will cast their ballot tomorrow.

It is about electing leaders who have the ability, credibility and willpower to consult widely and make the changes that are required.

It is about choosing the team which can inspire belief in sponsors, players and fans, whose plunging confidence levels might have just hit rock bottom with the recent controversies.

The decline of Singapore football over the years has polarised the community and disillusioned many.

But tomorrow's election, which takes place just months before the FAS' 125th anniversary on Aug 29, is a chance for the association to take the first steps towards healing the fractured football community - by first mending itself.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2017, with the headline 'Historic election gives FAS the chance to recover from the abyss'. Print Edition | Subscribe