Commentary

Singapore football the loser in hush-hush donation saga

On April 30, regardless of who wins the election the day before, the new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council will have its hands full trying to cope with an overflowing in-tray.

Transparency has to be of the highest priority for an association whose reputation has taken a battering the past few days over a $500,000 donation made by a second-tier football club.

Claims and counter claims have been lodged against former FAS president Zainudin Nordin, general secretary Winston Lee and presidential hopeful Bill Ng. But the football fraternity and the public have remained none the wiser.

Therein lies the biggest problem suffered by Singapore football in recent years - the way the FAS is run.

For three years, there was silence as half a million dollars was allowed to flow out of Singapore football and into the Asean Football Federation's (AFF) war chest, for the setting up of a portal that is touted as a benefit to associations across the region.

And when Ng fired this rocket last Thursday during the unveiling of his team's manifesto, it led to him publicly trading blows with Lee through a flurry of accusations, counter-accusations and legal threats.

With some former FAS council members claiming that the first time they had heard about the donation to the AFF was through media reports in the last few days, it is imperative that the new FAS leaders, whether it is Ng's Game Changers or Team LKT, be more transparent than ever.

Zainudin, the president from 2009 to 2016, has kept mum since the saga broke.

But amid the insinuations and sabre rattling, it has never been explained how and why this sum of money was allowed to be transferred overseas when the FAS could not give the grassroots game in Singapore sufficient funding.

After all, the amount donated, $500,000, is twice the quantum it set aside for the amateur clubs in the previous financial year.

It is chilling to think that had it not been for the election, these issues might never have surfaced. With some former FAS council members claiming that the first time they had heard about the donation to the AFF was through media reports in the last few days, it is imperative that the new FAS leaders, whether it is Ng's Game Changers or Team LKT, be more transparent than ever.

This saga also raises questions why persons within the FAS set-up wanted this donation to happen as Singapore football waits to benefit from the AFF's football management system, a seemingly expensive and important project that did not come to light until the wee hours of Friday morning, when Lee revealed its existence, three years after the money was transferred.

This issue is a blow to the FAS' image at a time when it is seeking sponsors. The likes of Great Eastern, Hyundai, RHB, Nike and Mitre have backed the association and the struggling S-League even when results are poor.

But everyone's patience is limited.

Worse, the finger pointing, coming just two weeks before the affiliates go to the polls, has been a distraction in the election run-up, a time when the fraternity should be focused on deciding which team has a better set of plans and personalities to take the sport forward.

Delay any longer and it will be another own goal for Singapore football.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore football the loser in hush-hush donation saga'. Print Edition | Subscribe