Football Association of Singapore roundtable

Football: Woo Singapore inc to save S-League

Football Association of Singapore's Lim Kia Tong, Bernard Tan and Edwin Tong discuss the problems in local football and their plans to revive the sport.
From left: FAS deputy president Bernard Tan, president Lim Kia Tong and vice-president Edwin Tong during the round-table session to outline their plans to revive Singapore football.
From left: FAS deputy president Bernard Tan, president Lim Kia Tong and vice-president Edwin Tong during the round-table session to outline their plans to revive Singapore football.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Major changes afoot as new FAS team weighs up corporate funding, new locations for clubs

Plans are afoot to give the floundering S-League a massive jolt in the shape of a huge overhaul - not only to its format, but also a game-changing way the cash-starved competition is funded.

A re-organisation to allocate clubs according to geographical locations or even by GRCs is one option to make it more viable. Furthermore, efforts will be made to attract Government-linked companies (GLCs) to pump big money into the cash-starved league.

These plans were revealed in a round-table session filmed last Friday at The Straits Times' newsroom. In attendance were three Football Association of Singapore (FAS) executive committee members - president Lim Kia Tong, deputy president Bernard Tan and vice-president Edwin Tong.

These ideas to revive the S-League come in the wake of analysis made by an ad-hoc committee, spearheaded by FAS vice-presidents Teo Hock Seng and S. Thavaneson.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) also sent a former Fifa adviser to international football associations, Anter Isaac, to propose ideas. The Australian consultant was in Singapore for a week last month.

Said Lim, a 65-year-old litigator with law firm Hin Tat Augustine & Partners: "If we decide to go semi-pro or amateur, it will sound the death knell for Singapore football. We won't have a strong national team.

  • First 100 days under the new FAS council

  • What the new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council has done in its first 100 days in charge:

    The executive committee, comprising FAS president Lim Kia Tong, deputy president Bernard Tan and vice-presidents Edwin Tong, Razali Saad, S. Thavaneson and Teo Hock Seng, identified three pillars in the local game and set about creating ad-hoc committees to formulate policies to reinforce these key areas.

    S-LEAGUE

    •Ad-hoc committee spearheaded by Teo and Thavaneson and assisted by FAS council member Forrest Li.

    •It is recommended that the S-League remains professional.

    •The league could be re-organised to allocate clubs according to geographical or even political boundaries.

    •The competition will be more intensely promoted, there will be greater media engagement. A mid-week television show was mooted.

    •Promotion and relegation is likely to be introduced to make the competition more lively.

    •The new S-League format should ideally have 12 clubs instead of the current nine.

    •Clubs will be advised to practise financial prudence and not spend money that they do not have. They should also not be dependent on money from jackpot-room operations.

    •Government-linked companies will also be wooed to attract big sponsorship money.

    GOVERNANCE

    •Ad-hoc committee chaired by Tan.

    •All FAS staff members had to sign declaration forms and a code of conduct to reinforce the message of accountability. Their remuneration also had to be declared in the interest of transparency.

    •An external audit will be done to assess the FAS' adherence to the April 2017 Revised Code of Governance for Charities.

    •The exco should have oversight of key decisions like financial approvals, the appointment and remuneration of high-salaried officials and donations. Previously, key decisions were made by the president and general secretary.

    COMMUNICATIONS

    •Ad-hoc committee led by Tong.

    •The committee is set up to establish more openness and better communications between the FAS and its stakeholders like the media, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, national sports agency Sport Singapore, sponsors, clubs, coaches, players, and referees.

    OTHERS

    • Standardised apparel is provided for referees in the S-League and National Football League (NFL).

    •Help is rendered to NFL to look for sponsors.

Mr Tong, a 48-year-old senior counsel with law firm Allen & Gledhill and an MP for Marine Parade GRC, added: "One of the ideas is to pair the clubs with certain boundaries. (One example is) the political boundaries. It is probably the only way Singapore is formally cut up into different regions. We might want to leverage on that, pair them up with some of the CDCs (Community Development Councils)."

There are nine clubs in this season's S-League, of which two have foreign origins (Brunei DPMM and Japan's Albirex Niigata), while the Garena Young Lions are essentially the national Under-22 team fielded to give the squad regular competitive football.

The FAS executive committee is aiming to meet national sports agency Sport Singapore next Tuesday to present its plans on reviving Singapore football to secure funding for the next financial year.

Since January, SportSG has been administering the association's subsidies from the Tote Board, reportedly worth $25 million annually, as part of a move to streamline practices across all national sports associations.

However, Lim hopes the FAS can do more than just rely on subsidies. He revealed: "When we look at the Korean and Japanese leagues, we see major commercial stakeholders playing their part.

"It's about time the major commercial people in Singapore put some of their money, under their (Corporate Social Responsibility), into the local clubs."

In South Korea's K-League, for example, Suwon Bluewings (Samsung) and Jeonbuk Motors (Hyundai) are backed by major industry players, while Nagoya Grampus Eight (Toyota) and Urawa Red Diamonds (Mitsubishi) enjoy similar support in Japan's J-League.

The FAS also recognises that the S-League is currently not a viable product and any sales pitch to the GLCs is unlikely to be successful. Nevertheless, the exco emphasised that it is determined to execute its plans to drag Singapore football back on its feet.

Tan, 50, the managing director for corporate affairs and sustainability for Asia Pulp & Paper, suggested promoting the S-League with mid-week television shows to create a buzz, and having a shared service to help clubs in managerial matters.

He added: "These are the things we have put on the table, we don't want to go back (to the same problems), we don't want to go round in circles.

"It has taken us 21 years to see the lessons, certainly we want to see an outcome this time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline 'Woo S'pore inc to save S-League'. Print Edition | Subscribe