Covid-19 Special

Football: No wage cuts for Lion City Sailors amid Covid-19, billionaire chairman Forrest Li promises staff

A photo taken on March 5, 2020, shows Lion City Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar speaking to players during training. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - As Singapore Premier League (SPL) clubs mull over wage cuts for players as part of cost-cutting measures during the coronavirus pandemic, Lion City Sailors has pledged it will not consider such a move.

In a letter sent to his squad and seen by The Straits Times on Friday (April 3), Sailors chairman and billionaire Forrest Li assured them there would be no reduction in salaries for players, coaches or backroom staff.

The founder of home-grown Internet company Sea added there were also no plans to retrench club employees.

The Sailors are Singapore's first privatised football club after Li took ownership of former SPL club Home United in February. The club signed top national players like Hassan Sunny, midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman and forward Gabriel Quak to spearhead their SPL title bid.

Li noted in the letter: "One of our fundamental objectives for Lion City Sailors is that this club will set the benchmark for professional football in Singapore by providing a platform where players and coaches can pursue their footballing dreams, while at the same time building successful careers and supporting their families.

"Introducing salary cuts at this point would run entirely counter to that vision, and we will not consider this.

"This commitment is extremely important to us because we want to ensure that each and every one of our players and coaches can remain entirely focused on their fitness and health during this time without worrying about off-field distractions."

Unlike the five other senior local SPL teams and Japanese side Albirex Niigata, the Sailors have opted against running jackpot operations. The Sailors have also chosen not to receive the subsidies from the Tote Board, which is disbursed by Sport Singapore to offset operational costs.

The other clubs rely heavily on these two income sources to cover their operational costs and have been forced to tighten their belts after March 24 announcement by the Ministry of Health on enhanced measures to combat the Covid-19 virus meant jackpot operations had to cease.

The subject was brought up during a meeting between club chairmen on Monday evening, although the quantum or percentage of reduction has not been finalised and the move is yet to be confirmed.

In his letter, Li also expressed his hope that his players would return to action when the league resumed - the SPL was suspended on March 24 - as the "fittest, the best-prepared and the most united club".

Encouraging players to stick to tailored fitness and training programmes developed by Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar and his backroom team, he also asked his players to "actively support each other" by checking in with each other often and staying "engaged even as you train apart" because of social distancing measures in place.

"Great teams are forged in the most challenging circumstances... When the league commences once more, let's be fighting fit and ready to show the true character of this team," he added.

The Sailors are eighth in the nine-team SPL with one draw and a loss. They are eight points behind leaders Tampines Rovers, who have played two games more.

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