SINGAPORE - In a year of milestones for the women’s football scene here, there was another breakthrough on Wednesday (May 4) with the launch of the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL), which will mark the return of the competition after a two-year absence due to the pandemic.
The three-year deal, with an option for two additional years, is worth more than $300,000 and is the first time the top-flight league, started in August 2000, will have a title sponsor. Prize money for the WPL champions will increase fivefold to $25,000.
Three clubs have also been established and will join four others – Lion City Sailors, Tiong Bahru, Still Aerion and Tanjong Pagar United in the WPL. They are Hougang United, Balestier Khalsa and Albirex Niigata – all Singapore Premier League (SPL) clubs that have incorporated a senior women’s team within their set-up.
The new season starts on May 28 with a home and away round-robin format. Teams can register up to 25 players, with a minimum age of 16, and a maximum of four foreigners. There will be no relegation to the second-tier Women’s National League for the next three seasons.
No updates were provided on the composition of the National League. In 2019, before Covid-19, it had 10 teams while the WPL had five. There was also promotion and relegation between both leagues, which remain fully amateur.
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) also announced the clubs will receive grants towards hiring of coaches and payment of allowance and travel expenses for players and staff.
With help from the Fifa Covid-19 relief plan, another $180,000 in subsidies will be handed out to six clubs, excluding the privatised Sailors, while support from the Government-backed Unleash the Roar! project will ensure all seven clubs have a dedicated field to train on at least three times a week.
Speaking at the WPL event at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said its launch is reflective of the big strides the Republic has made “in the development of Singapore women not only in the sporting field but certainly in other areas as well”.
He also drew reference to the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development endorsed in parliament in April, which aims to look at how the country can uplift national gender equality.
Mr Tong reminded the audience: “The men have as much a role in this and it is important for us to remember that all of us in this room have an equal stake in ensuring that we have gender equality in Singapore. This is part of the Government’s efforts in building a fairer and more inclusive society.”
He noted the sponsorship of the WPL showed that women’s football in Singapore is “on the cusp of something tremendous” and added: “We want to also promote women’s empowerment, leadership, and help in other areas to develop a sense of identity and achievement by pursuing new opportunities.”
The disparity between men's and women's football here remains stark. According to the FAS' annual report for the year ended March 2020, expenditure on women's football was $542,533 while just over $12.6 million was spent on the professional men's SPL.
FAS president Lim Kia Tong said the association has “taken the opportunity during this time to evolve the league with an increased number of clubs, a more competitive format and structured support provided for the teams to elevate the standard of football for our local female players”.
Philip Yuen, chairman of Deloitte Singapore, added that “sports embodies our shared values of leadership, integrity, care, inclusion and collaboration, and this fuels our commitment towards developing sports within the local community.”
So far, 2022 has already been noteworthy for women's football. The national team was selected to compete at the Hanoi SEA Games - their first outing at the biennial event since 2003 - and will also make their debut at the Asian Games, held in September in Hangzhou.
In April, the team played in front of a paying public for the first time during the FAS Tri-Nations Series matches against Papua New Guinea and Seychelles at Jalan Besar. The former game drew 2,344 fans and the latter had 1,500 spectators.
Michelle Lim, 23, will turn out for Hougang and was thrilled by the developments. The National University of Singapore nursing undergraduate said: “It’s an amazing feeling to have football back and to see the investment going into the league.
“This really is a great time for women’s football in Singapore because you can really feel the pride that the footballers are feeling.
“I am excited (for the league to start) and looking forward to the exposure that it will provide for me and fellow female footballers.”