Football: ST looks at a starting XI of key issues new FAS leaders need to fix

The new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council will face 11 pressing issues.
The new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council will face 11 pressing issues.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - With the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election taking place on Saturday (April 29), a new team will be chosen to lead the sport whose reputation has been dragged through the mud in recent weeks.

Getting elected was the first hurdle. The FAS' new leaders will have a stocked in-tray ahead of them.

The Straits Times' correspondents Chua Siang Yee and Jonathan Wong list 11 pressing issues the new council will have to address.

1. Reconcile a fractured fraternity

The election has split the football community along party lines as both sets of teams and their supporters have traded barbs with each other on social media and through the press.

It is also anyone's guess how far the repercussions of the police investigation will lead. Against this backdrop, the new council must unite and galvanise all stakeholders to work together.

2. Greater governance and accountability

Transparency must become the byword for the FAS, which operates annually on a budget of around $35 million, more than any other national sports associations.

There cannot be another instance where a large donation is made without the knowledge of the council. Stricter rules - even sanctions - prioritising full disclosure must be implemented. An internal audit branch could be set up to investigate possible conflicts of interest. The new council must be whiter than white.

3. Address the S-League conundrum

Declining standards, a lack of stars and public interest plus the LionsXII project have all battered the S-League, which has limped into its 22nd season.

A strong domestic league will improve standards and in turn help the national team and the new administrators must make revitalising the beleaguered S-League among its top priorities.

4. Work on grassroots, amateur and women's football

For too many years, the FAS has taken an elitist approach and devoted time, energy and resources towards high performance, neglecting those at the bottom of the food chain, including the 23 National Football League clubs, nearly four times the number of active local S-League clubs (six).

Hundreds of thousands in this country play football and greater engagement and support must be given to make them feel part of the fraternity.

5. Prioritise domestic issues first

The $500,000 donation that went to the Asean Football Federation (AFF) instead of towards domestic coffers raised the ire of many. As did the short-lived dalliance with the Malaysian Super League and a proposed move to join the Asean Super League.

Instead of promoting foreign entities, it would be wise for the new leaders to focus on fixing the ailing local scene first.

6. Appointment of a new FAS general secretary and S-League CEO

FAS general secretary Winston Lee, the top person in charge of its day-to-day running, looks set to leave his post after the election. The S-League chief executive position is also vacant after Lim Chin finished his term in March.

It is unfair to pin all of the failures on the duo but their departures are an opportune moment to inject energy and new ideas into two of Singapore football's most important full-time roles.

7. Help the Lions roar again

Singapore, four-time AFF Championship winners, crashed out in the group stage at the last two editions. Last October, the national team sank to an all-time low in the Fifa rankings - 171.

A football association is ultimately judged on the results of its national team and the incoming council has to offer a vision with concrete plans to make the Lions a source of pride once more.

8. Make football a viable career

Reports of 11-month contracts, low wages and an ill-judged age-cap rule - which was eventually scrapped - make it hard to convince aspiring players and their parents that playing football professionally is a worthwhile pursuit.

While a select few do make a decent living, the bulk do struggle financially and some even work a second job to pay the bills. The new team has to treat these men with greater respect.

9. Outline a clear footballing vision and construct the pathway

The short-term target of previous administrations has been to produce results at the SEA Games and AFF Championships, which are held in alternate years.

Singapore football therefore lacks any real philosophy; at present, it is simply a pragmatic one based on winning trophies. No one is fooling ourselves to create our version of tiki taka or gegenpress but there needs to be a unifying style that is attractive to local fans and starts at the junior level and is adopted across all national teams.

10. Adopt a consultative leadership approach

Former FAS president Zainudin Nordin's management style was known to leave little room for discussion and is something the new council must avoid.

Tough decisions in the future will have to be made but the succeeding executive committee must be willing to engage and listen to alternative voices, whether these are players (current or retired), fans, officials from other sports and the public.

11. Build a platform for continuity

From today, the FAS council will be elected democratically every four years. It also means the association will have to get used to possible leadership upheaval each term.

Structures must be put in place to ensure the organisation can function seamlessly regardless of who is sitting on the council.