Football: No Kallang home for Lions?

Over 33,000 fans turned up at the National Stadium to watch the Lions take on Japan in a World Cup qualifier last year. Singapore lost 3-0.
Over 33,000 fans turned up at the National Stadium to watch the Lions take on Japan in a World Cup qualifier last year. Singapore lost 3-0.TNP FILE PHOTO

High costs could force them to play more football matches outside of National Stadium

When the National Stadium reopened its doors in 2014, there were hopes that the dazzling new facility would become a fortress for the Singapore football team. That vision now hangs in the balance.

The Straits Times understands that the Singapore Sports Hub and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) have so far failed to agree on an extension of their memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The MOU, which allows the Lions to play their matches at the 55,000-capacity venue at a lower-than-market rate, expired last month.

Cost is a reason for the impasse, with the FAS expected to fork out $180,000 per game held under the dome.

It is also believed the Sports Hub wants FAS to commit to holding at least 10 matches at the stadium.

  • $180K

  • The amount the Football Association of Singapore was expected to pay the Singapore Sports Hub for each Lions match held at the National Stadium.

The Lions, who are No. 165 in Fifa's world rankings, are scheduled to play five Asian Cup third-round qualifiers - home and away - this year, with the first match taking place on March 28.

The two parties, along with local sport governing body Sport Singapore, will meet again today.

An FAS spokesman said: "We are constantly exploring the possibility of hosting the national team's matches at the Sports Hub whenever possible - even if we acknowledge that some matches may only attract a certain number of fans.

"Any deal needs to make financial sense for both parties. The FAS in particular has to be financially prudent. While we have independently raised revenue, we continue to receive funding both from the Government and the Tote Board and must therefore manage our finances in a responsible way."

The Sports Hub's senior director for corporate communications and stakeholder management Chin Sau Ho insists "football is integral to the Singapore Sport Hub's content strategy". He added: "We look forward to presenting more football, especially the Lions, in the National Stadium in close collaboration with the FAS."

It remains to be seen if both parties can reach a compromise.

The FAS' spending is already under the spotlight, with SportSG taking control of the funding it receives from the Tote Board last week. Previously, the FAS administered the Tote Board's subsidy, believed to be around $25 million annually, directly.

The Sports Hub is also under pressure to deliver more events at the National Stadium. British band Coldplay and the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens are the only notable events lined up this year.

Last month, ST reported that several suite owners at the National Stadium were unhappy with the lacklustre event line-up and were unsure if they would renew their memberships.

Since the Sports Hub opened in 2014, the Lions have played eight of their 16 home matches under the iconic dome - winning three, drawing one and losing four of them. The remaining matches were played at stadiums in Jalan Besar, Yishun, Hougang and Bishan.

Singapore football fan Reza Putra Salam said: "As a fan, of course I want the national team to play at the National Stadium. It is the only venue that can bring so many Singaporeans of all walks of life together.

"Singapore football isn't in the best place now and maybe this means fewer fans will turn up. It needs to improve but we should also support the Lions along the way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2017, with the headline 'No Kallang home for Lions?'. Print Edition | Subscribe